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Lesley University 
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Do Not Take From This Room 

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in 2010 with funding from 
Lesley University, Sherrill Library 


Submitted by 


In partial fulfillment of the requirements 

For the degree of 

Doctor of Philosophy 


May 18 


This dissertation and the work that led up to it would not have been possible but 
for the support, wisdom, and encouragement of some very remarkable people. I am a 
fortunate woman to have these people in my life. 

My most heartfelt gratitude I offer to Dr. Sheryl Boris- Schacter, my Faculty 
Advisor and Doctoral Committee Chair. Her clear thinking and deep understanding of 
the world of school principals helped me to acquire an understanding of my professional 
world and my place in it that will serve me well for many years. 

I am deeply indebted to Dr. Paul Crowley of Lesley University for his insights 
into a world which was unfamiliar to me. The spiritual side of educational leadership is 
an area which requires a great deal of attention if school principals are to be sustained in 
their role. Looking at the school principalship through Dr. Crowley's eyes was a 
continual reminder that educational leadership is, indeed, an ethical and spiritual 

I am also most grateful to Dr. Patricia Randall, Superintendent of Pembroke 
Public Schools. Ten years ago, Dr. Randall took a chance on hiring a special education 
teacher with no experience in public school administration to be an Assistant Principal of 
an elementary school. That experience has shaped my professional life in profound 
ways. That Dr. Randall would continue to be in my life as Doctoral Committee member. 

mentor, and friend is more than I could have wished for myself She is a true role model 
of strong and ethical educational leadership. 

Dr. Caroline Heller of Lesley University's Ph.D. in Educational Studies program 
taught me how to write. Honestly. 

Dr. William Dandridge of Lesley University's School of Education was willing to 
take me on at a time when I most in need. He quickly became a valuable advisor and 
Committee Chair and gently helped me to see that I was, in fact, finished with this phase 
of my learning. 

On a more personal level, I thank my sisters, Alison Davidson and Emily Martin, 
who have offered me unconditional support and friendship. My mother, Alice Martin, 
taught me to read when I was four years old - a gift that will sustain me my entire life. 
My father, Bill Martin and my mother Alice were my earliest teachers of how to live an 
ethical, principled life. 

Finally, I would not have been able to finish this work without the loving support 
of my husband. I probably would not have had the confidence to begin it in the first 
place if I couldn't see myself through his eyes. Albert deChiara - 1 love you and thank 
you and forgive you for vacuuming my desk while I was working. 



One of the central goals of current education reform in this country has been to 
equalize learning opportunities and outcomes for all groups of children, including and 
especially those groups previously marginalized. With federal education reform 
mandates of the early twenty-first century, the work of schools is rigidly evaluated on 
evidence of achievement - not simply evidence of good processes and intentions. This 
high-stakes demand for universal achievement has brought several ethical aspects of 
school leadership, including distribution of resources and equality of educational 
opportunity, sharply into focus. 

The subject of ethics in school administration has only recently been attended to 
by researchers (Beck & Murphy, 1994). Prior to 1990, most of the research regarding the 
school principalship was of a positivist, technical nature. In this study, I engaged in 
phenomenological inquiry because I was interested in learning about the lived 
experiences of the selected participants as they were engaged in a single phenomenon - 
decision-making when faced with an ethical dilemma in their principalship. Clark 
Moustakas' (1994) model of transcendental phenomenology will provided the basis of 
the research design. 

The purpose of this study was to explore and describe individual principals' 
experiences of ethical decision-making in a complex era. I presumed that most school 
principals would have a vivid memory of an experience when they were forced to make a 
"tough decision" - one that challenged them to take a position in spite of competing and 
deeply felt moral values. Ethical dilemma, in this case, was the term used to describe an 
event which calls for a decision to be made when moral values or ethical principles were 
in conflict. I was interested to know how they encountered this dilemma, what they 
thought and how they felt about it, what values they brought to bear, what advice they 
sought and from whom, how they resolved the dilemma, and what effect the experience 
had on their own leadership. 

Turmoil stemmed from what these principals experienced as a conflict of duties. 
Consistent with the conclusions of prior studies, I found that the most vexing ethical 
dilemmas reported by these principals involved imposing sanctions for staff (primarily) 
and students (secondarily). In three cases the issue was dismissal for underperformance. 
In two cases the issue was communicating dissatisfaction with teacher performance, 
either verbally or through the formal evaluation process. In two cases the issue was 
student discipline, specifically the determination of appropriate consequences for 
misbehavior. Two cases were unique in that they didn't fall into these categories, but 
were illustrative of how inner conflict arises when one is duty-bound to present a stance 
that runs counter to one's authentic self These reported ethical dilemmas could be 
located within one or more of the following paradoxes: Justice versus mercy, conflict 
within the ethic of the profession (as described by Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001), and 
personal code versus professional code. 

Several other themes emerged from the data. First, nearly all these principals 
reported being strongly influenced by the impact their decisions would have on their 
school community, especially the staff. Second, many of these principals were able to 
speak positively about their experiences, believing that their struggles resulted in refined 
leadership skills. Third, the experiences of these principals underscored the need for 
support from the superintendent and other central office personnel when difficult 
decisions had to be made. Finally, all of these principals' stories ended with a positive 
ending, with the principals' claim that they were comfortable with their decision-making 
and their belief that they did the right thing. Any negative feelings, such as fear or doubt, 
were not reported, leaving me to believe that these principals were not comfortable 
discussing them, even in a confidential setting with a researcher unconnected to their 
school systems. This points to the need for a support network where school principals 
can feel comfortable raising thorny ethical issues, and where private doubts and fears can 
addressed with candor. 

I hope that this study of these school principals' ethical decision-making will 
contribute to the current knowledge base of the role of the school principal, with 
implications for principal preparation programs, professional development of current and 
aspiring school principals and teachers, and policy making that can support sustainable 
leadership conditions. 



Introduction 5 

Personal Background 6 

The Elementary School Principalship: A Context for Ethical Ambiguity 8 


Philosophical Foundations of Ethics 12 

Deontology 14 

Deontology and Moral Objectivism 15 

The Categorical Imperative 19 

Deontology and the Ethical Dilemma 20 

Contemporary Deontology 22 

Utilitarianism 28 

Utilitarianism and the Ethical Dilemma 30 

Aristotle and Virtues Ethics 31 

From the Philosophy of Ethics to the Psychology of Morality: 36 

Theories of Individual Moral Development: 36 

Lawrence Kohlberg 37 

Carol Gilligan 40 

NelNoddings, the Ethic of Care and Subjectivism 42 


Introduction 46 

Ethics in Educational Administration University Programs: 

Creators of the Knowledge Base 48 

A shift in epistemology, or ways of knowing about 

School administration 49 

From Theory to Practice 50 

Review of Research in Practice 58 

Humble Beginnings 58 

Ethics in School Administration in the Reform Era 59 

Emerging Theory in the Field of Ethics in School Administration: 

A Review of Prominent Literature 69 

Robert J. Starratt and Building an Ethical School 69 

Thomas J. Sergiovanni and Moral Leadership 72 

Joan P. Shapiro and Jacqueline A. Stefkovich and 

The Ethic of the Profession 73 

Ethical Leadership in the Twenty-First Century 75 


Purpose of the Study 79 

The Study 80 

Guiding Research Questions 82 

Discussion of the Research Questions 83 

Sampling 88 

Bracketing 91 

Data Collection 94 

Definitions % 

Data Analysis 101 

Narrative Analysis 1 02 

Analyzing Language 1 04 



Statement of the Research Question 1 09 

Teacher Dismissal 110 

Phyllis Ill 

Linda 118 

Alice 123 

Staff Supervision and Evaluation 130 

Debra 130 

John 137 

Judy 143 

Student Discipline 150 

Sam 151 

Susan 159 

Subverting the Self 1 66 

Denise 1 66 

Paula 171 


Introduction 181 

The "Justice Vs.Mercy" Paradox: "Being the Bad Guy" 182 

The Ethic of the Profession 190 

Personal Versus Professional Code: Subverting the Self. 1 93 

In the Public Eye 196 

In the Aftermath: Shaping Leadership 198 

Support from Above: The Critical Role of the Superintendent 199 

Significance of the Study 201 





My father recently described to me how I was as a child. He said I reminded him 
of a person who was hit by a car as she crossed the street. As they took her away in an 
ambulance, bruised and bleeding but conscious, she was asked why she didn't look both 
ways before crossing the street. She indignantly replied, "Because I had the right of 

Years later, as an elementary school principal in pursuit of a doctoral degree, I 
find myself steeped in the study of ethics. I have come to see this dogged determinism 
toward adherence to principle as the kind of blind, impartial sense of justice of which 
Immanuel Kant would be proud. My concern about ethics in school administration is 
borne of a genuine desire to do right by the children who attend my school, a sentiment 
which I am guessing is shared by most, if not all, school principals. In a context of 
intensifying accountability, conflicting demands by school community constituencies, 
thinly stretched resources, a personal appreciation for ihe vulnerability of children 
compelled to attend school, and a desire to offer latitude and empowerment to a talented 
teaching staff, however, the right way is not always obvious to me. 

In my research and study, I hoped to gain a broader and deeper understanding of 
ethical dilemmas as they have been presented to other elementary school principals. In a 
broad sense, I hoped to learn about the nature of these dilemmas. Were they primarily a 
reflection of current tensions over accountability and achievement as measured by 
standardized tests? Or did they possess a timeless quality, echoing the trials and 

struggles of public education over the years? Was there a pattern, or did individual 
school principals experience moral struggles over diverse phenomena? In a deep sense, I 
hoped to describe in rich, textured detail how several elementary school principals 
experienced the phenomenon of working through an ethical dilemma. What was it about 
them and their own morality that led them to experience the event as a dilemma? What 
was their thought process as they engaged in decision-making and reflection? What were 
their "non-negotiables" and why? What potential outcome "tipped the scales" in favor of 
one course of action over another, and why was this outcome privileged over others? 
How do these school principals see themselves as moral arbiters in the aftermath of the 
event? How has the experience changed their leadership? What can I - and other school 
principals - learn from their experiences? 

Personal Background 
As a teenager in the 1970s I took a job as a counselor in a camp for children with 
disabilities. At this time children with all varieties of disabilities were treated as one 
homogenous group, regardless of individual circumstance. That children with disabilities 
should he able to attend a recreational camp was representative of the beneficent thinking 
at the time, and people associated with such camps (and separate schools) were well 
intentioned people like myself who wanted to do something helpful for vulnerable 
children who otherwise had no other means of recreation. My early experiences with 
these children led to a career choice, and for the first ten years of my adult working life I 
was a teacher of children with significant physical and cognitive disabilities in a separate 
school/hospital setting. I was happy in this role until I gradually came to the realization 

that schoolwide learning expectations for these children were shamefully low, and that I 
was powerless within that system to change the prevailing attitude that contributed to an 
impoverished curriculum and mediocre school program. Desiring the positional power 
that I thought was necessary to effect substantial change on behalf of children who 
struggled in their learning, I jumped at the first chance to become a school administrator 
- an assistant principal at a medium-sized, suburban elementary school. This was during 
the early years of education reform in Massachusetts and, with my personal frustration 
over what I perceived to be low expectations for children with disabilities, the goal of 
measurable achievement for all students was and remains a powerful motivator for me. 

I believe that school is the place where children's lives are either made or broken, 
their futures either elevatsd or restricted. As a school principal, I am acutely aware that 
decisions made today on behalf of children will have long-lasting implications for their 
future. No longer assured of my own righteousness as I was as a child and a young 
teacher, however, I am somewhat fearful of my own agency in affecting the lives of the 
children in my school. When faced with complicated and ambiguous situations calling 
for morally and ethically correct solutions, how will I loiow what to do? 

When I began my doctoral studies, it was with an eye toward discovering how 
successful principals solve such dilemmas. Given time, research and exemplars, I felt 
that I too could behave in ways that were beneficial to my school community, (for I soon 
realized that the principalship entails moral responsibility to parents, teachers, and a 
whole host of other people in addition to children). Earnestly wishing to construct a 
sense of how to do things right, I embarked on several years' worth of study regarding 
exemplary leadership, distributed leadership, transformational leadership, effective 

schools, school management, and aduh learning and development - only to come to the 
conclusion that leadership must, above all, be ethical if it is to result in elevating the 
quality of lives of members of the school community. Moreover, I concluded that ethical 
leadership is a hard thing to pin dovra and define, that what feels right to one morally 
upstanding person might not feel so to another. However, I am optimistic that 
conscientious thought and reflection on my and others' ethical decision-making can 
clarify important considerations when faced with ambiguous but high-stakes situations. 
It is that desire for a better understanding of ethical decision-making in the elementary 
school principalship, illuminated in the phenomenon of facing an ethical (or moral) 
dilemma, that compels me to examine the topic. It is, simply put, a desire to know what 
questions to ask and how to frame the answers. 

The Elementary School Principalship: A Context for Ethical Ambiguity 
The elementary school principal serves many masters. In organizational theory, 
the superintendent and the school committee direct the work of the principal, who in turn 
directs the work of the teachers and support staff, who then direct the students. In reality, 
the power structure is not so hierarchical. Sergiovanni has characterized schools as 
nonlinear systems: 

Nonlinearity means that the act of playing the game has a way of changing the 
rules. In nonlinear situations, every decision changes existing conditions in such 
a way that successive decisions also made at the same time no longer fit. This 
makes it difficult for a principal, for example, to plan a series of steps or be 
committed to a stepwise set of procedures based on the initial assumptions. ... In 

short, nonlinear relationships between events lead to consequences that are 

unpredictable. (Sergiovanni, 1996, p. 35) 

The school community elects school committee members who evaluate the work 
of the superintendent. The collective - and occasional individual - parent voice carries 
much authority with those who would retain and succeed in their positions. The parents 
glean much of their views from what their children tell them about their school 
experience. The term "middle manager" (Fullan, 1997, p. 7), implying that there is but 
one force above and one below, fails to convey the complexity of the various power 
structures pushing and pulling from all sides. Teacher unions, school councils, parent 
organizations, central office directors and special interest advocacy groups are but a few 
of the additional power structures exerting force over the decision making of the school 

For many, the elementary school is not just a place where children go to learn - it 
is the repository of hopes and dreams parents have for their children and the tangible 
evidence of a community's investment in the future. High profile decisions are either 
debated in public arenas, such as televised school committee meetings, or they are made 
at a higher level, such as state mandated assessment programming. At the building level, 
school principals seeking to promote community through consensus building engage staff 
and parents in decision-making. However empowering and beneficial this process is, it is 
unwieldy and time-consuming, and it is not feasible for principals to hold every decision 
up to majority vote. Some decisions, such as those which impact individual students, are 
not appropriately debated in a public forum. The majority of decisions which impact the 
school lives of children are made privately, while sitting at a desk or driving home after a 

long day. Divergent exterior forces give way to interior ones. Blumberg and Greenfield 
refer to this dimension of decision making as the subsurface life of school principals: 
"The essential meanings of the principalship lie below the surface, ... for most intents 
and purposes, they are rarely the subject of any public forum. In a sense, they constitute 
the undiscussables of the job" (Blumberg & Greenfield, 1986, p. 213). 

Principal decisions are privately made and publicly scrutinized. Decision making 
over a seemingly mundane event often carries symbolic weight. Refusal to honor a 
parent request for teacher assignment will symbolize irrational rigidity to some, equitable 
and principled behavior to others. A student suspension will signify commitment to a 
safe school environment to teachers and a vengeful, punitive stance to the one being 
suspended (and, perhaps, his uncle, who may also be a school committee member.) 

A school principal acting on behalf of students must be able to justify her decision 
making on an ethical, moral basis - to herself and to others. The compulsory nature of 
schooling and the institutional powerlessness of children demand it. At the core of their 
leadership, school principals are first and foremost advocates for children (Blumberg & 
Greenfield, 1986, p. 214). Principals often claim, "I base all my decisions on what is best 
for children." Exactly what is best for children, however, is not always clear, especially 
if the legitimate needs of the few are in conflict with the legitimate needs of the many. 
Subverting one's personal sense of ethics for bureaucratic purposes is a common 
frustration in any administrative, middle management position (Dexheimer, 1969). 
Blumberg and Greenfield point out in their work with school principals, however, that 
what is most "perplexing and agonizing" is when "a youngster has to pay the price" for 
institufional loyalty (p. 215). For this reason, administrator preparation programs have 


recently included coursework in ethics, in order to help aspiring principals think in 
advance about how to approach problematic situations (Beck & Murphy, 1993). This is 
helpful but not in itself sufficient to guide the school principal through the difficult task 
of determining the right course of action. 

What sets the nature of the principalship apart from other administrative roles as 
an inherently conflictual position is that many of the conflicts v^ith which the 
principal mast grapple involve teachers and students or teachers and parents, and 
these most often occur outside the principal's perceptual field. Additionally, they 
frequently require that the principal perform a neat balancing act between one's 
perceived role as 'advocate' for the child on the one hand and, on the other, the 
pressures to conform to a very strong message that is central to the ethos of 
teachers as a group - 'support the teacher, right or wrong'. . . . Value conflicts 
pervade the work world of school principals. (Blumberg and Greenfield, 1986, p. 

What are the ethical dilemmas that elementary school principals talk about, and 
how do they talk about them? How do they describe their decision-making process, and 
how do they feel about their decisions in the aftermath? How does their experience 
inform their current beliefs about their own leadership? What role, if any, do personal 
ideals of justice, caring, equality, and morality factor in the decision making? 

These were the questions I explored in my research. In order to begin, however, I 
first developed a conceptual framework to my inquiry. How to describe, define, and 
operafionalize the terms "ethics," "ethical dilemma," "morality," "justice," and 
"equality?" What are the foundational and contemporary philosophical and 

psychological theories of ethical decision-making? How do researchers approach and 
write about the subject of ethical decision making in school leadership? Robert Starratt 
notes that "many ethical problems have no easy solution" and urges that "research be 
undertaken to gain a better understanding of the personal struggles of those who must 
make difficult moral choices." (in Beck, 1994, p. ix) It was and is my desire to do just 

Philosophical Foundations of Ethics 
How can we treat every student justly when to do so may violate our institutional 
rules and norms? Ironically the question stems from principals ' caring about 
kids. Often our understanding ofM'hat is best for individual kids leads to 
individualizing our treatment of them. But once we 've done that, we hear from 
colleagues, other students, and parents that what we 've done for that child is 
unfair or preferential treatment over others. Soon we hear that our decisions are 
inconsistent, that they 're leading to chaos and anarchy in the school among both 
student and staff {Ackerman, Donaldson, and Van Der Bogert, 1996, p. 13). 
In Making Sense as a School Leader, Ackerman et al. (1996) highlight the tension 
a school principal may experience between caring for a child and enforcing the rules of 
the school. The authors tell the fictional story of a principal, Gerry Taylor, who 
suspended a child in the interest of maintaining consistency with school rules (while 
under pressure from teachers, parents, and the superintendent), but who believed the 
suspension would damage the child. The ambiguity of the situation is reflected in the 


opposing stance adopted by two of the three authors: Ackerman concludes the principal 
betrayed her own sense of what was right, and that the school community should learn 
that justice will be meted out individually, with respect to individual circumstances and 
needs. The chapter's coauthor, Donaldson, argued that this "moral relativism" is 
inappropriate in school discipline - that it is the principal's responsibility to teach 
children about realistic consequences for misbehavior. 

This particular ethical dilemma is situated in the typical work life of the school 
principal, and is very likely played out in schools across the country every day. The 
ambiguous nature of the dilemma, however, and the arguments in favor of one course of 
action over another can be found in the ideas of the earliest philosophers, who struggled 
to articulate those principles that would lead to the most ethical way of thinking and 
acting. Contemporary ethicists such as Rawls, Noddings, and Benhabib continue the 
struggle. A central question for these philosophers has been, "What makes an action the 
most ethical one? " Is it the strict but fair adherence to agreed-upon rules, or the careful 
consideration of how the decision might affect the specific people involved? Should the 
most virtuous person acting from the best of intentions be trusted to respond in the most 
ethical manner? Is the best decision the one which strengthens caring relationships 
among people involved? 

In the following section I describe several important belief systems within the 
field of ethics philosophy. It is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a 
comprehensive account of all ethical belief systems, traditional as well as contemporary, 
but a cursory knowledge of foundational schools of thought is helpful in relating to the 


single subject stories and in understanding why the participants experienced narrated 
events as "dilemmas." 


Deontology is an ethical belief system that privileges the "right" over the "good" 
(Rawls, 1999, p. 28) and emphasizes adherence to rules and duty in praxis. "Any action, 
in order to be moral, must be taken in the belief and because of the belief that it is right - 
from duty, not because of personal inclination, gain, or love" (Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 104). 
Immanuel Kant, an eighteenth century German philosopher, created the ideal of the 
"categorical moral imperative" which meant a universal set of rules for "all people at all 
times, in all places, and under all conditions ..." (Beckner, 2004, p. 15). Heavily 
influenced by Jean- Jacques Rousseau's eighteenth century teachings on human freedom 
and the dignity of man (Pojman, 2002, p. 139), Kant believed that such a universal set of 
rules was necessary for the establishment and sustenance of a "peaceable community" 
(Nash, 2002, p. 108), given the diverse nature of human morality. Rushworth Kidder, a 
contemporary writer of ethics, calls deontology "rule-based thinking" and writes, "It 
describes an imperative (or requirement) that our actions conform to certain large patterns 
- in other words, that they can be made into universal principles of action" (1995, p. 
157). Kant believed these universal rules were "self imposed moral commands" (Nash, 
p. 134), thereby honoring the human element of free will, even as he attempted to 
separate out human subjective tendencies from the process. In a "secular, pluralist 
society," the reigning principle is respect for others, because it is only through mutual 


respect that society can create its own moral imperative - but create one it must (Nash, p. 

Deontology and Moral Objectivism 

Related to deontological thinking is "moral objectivism". That is, some moral 
principles are derived from universal laws of morality that have validity despite the 
individual circumstances or situations or degree of cultural acceptance (Beckner, 2004, p. 
49). One such universal law would be "natural law," an "absolutist" standard of essential 
righteousness that Thomas Aquinas promoted in the 13* century. Borrowing from 
Aristotle's idea that "reason is the true self of every man" (Aristotle, trans. 1925, cited in 
Pojman, 2002, p. 44) and the Stoics from the 1^' century BC,' who believed that human 
beings have within them the ability to "discover" true righteousness (Pojman, p. 43), 
Aquinas espoused the theory that men, through reason, were inclined naturally to follow 
the laws necessary for "human flourishing." 

To the natural law belong those things to which a man is inclined naturally; and 
among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason . . . Hence 
this is the first precept of law, that good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to 
be avoided, [principles of beneficence and nonmalfeasance] All other precepts of 
the natural law are based upon this; . . ." (Aquinas, trans. 1945, cited in Pojman, p. 

' Stoicism; man is a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm of the universe. Through reason he is 
able to discern the universal law and order present in nature and to live a life in accord with it. "The world 
is providentially ordered..." (Beckner, 2004, p. 10-11). 

Aquinas' ideas related to natural law are present in our contemporary ideals of individual 
rights. That is, natural law rights exist simply because we are human. 

In 1785 Kant wrote Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals as an inquiry into 
the nature of moral philosophy. In this work, he sought to describe a moral philosophy 
based solely on reason, extricated from experiential (empirical, or data-based) 
considerations. He purposefully wrote this Groundwork as a precursor to a more specific 
inquiry of moral thought, reasoning that the "metaphysics of morals," which 
acknowledged the "empirical" or "practical" application of moral judgment, needed to be 
illuminated and clarified first, so that the "rational" part might then be considered 
independently. In a later book, enthled The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Kant sought 
to explicate moral duties in detail. In this initial work, however, Kant lay the foundation 
for the deontological belief system of morality. 
Reason and Good Will 

Central to Kant's belief system was the criterion of "good will," wherein the 
moral measure of an action is best taken in proportion to service to "duty:" 

. . .an action from duty has its moral worth not in the purpose to be attained by it 
but in the maxim in accordance with which it is decided upon, and therefore does 
not depend upon the realization of the object of the action but merely upon the 
principle of volition in accordance with which the action is done without regard 
for any object of the faculty of desire (Kant, 1785/1997, 4:400, p. 13). 
In Kant's view, an action is not moral if it is taken out of personal inclination, or 
with consideration for outcome. Only that which is taken with good will is morally right 
(Pojman, 2002, p. 141). Intelligence, courage, honesty - all these are virtuous qualities. 


but, without pure motivation toward acting in accordance with intrinsic "goodness," can 
be used for bad purposes. Inclination alone is insufficient for true morality. For 
example, if one has an inclination to obey a law, then acting out of this inclination is 
considered "conforming to duty," a different thing entirely from acting "from duty" 
(Kant, 1785/1997, 4:398, p. 1 1). In fact, the more one is disinclined to an action, the 
more "moral" the action Kant deemed it to be. The originality of this principle is well 
seen in Kant's discussion of the relationship of "beneficence" to duty, good will, and 

To be beneficent where one can is a duty, and besides there are many souls so 
sympathetically attuned that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest 
they find an inner satisfaction in spreading joy around them ... But I assert that in 
such a case an action of this kind, however it may conform with duty and however 
amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth but is on the same footing 
with other inclinations ... for the maxim lacks moral content, namely that of 
doing such actions not from inclination but fi-om duty (4:398, p. 11). 
When Kant first began his investigation of a morality based purely on reasoning 
and independent of empirical information, it was this thought process - this synthesis of 
rational principles - he had in mind. The morality of an action or maxim, Kant believed, 
must satisfy the criteria of good will and universalizability in the mind of the one 
contemplating. In Section II of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, "From 
Popular Philosophy to Metaphysics," Kant makes a powerfijl case in favor of the primacy 
of rational thought - of reason - as the sovereign arbiter of morality. Arguing against the 


"foreign addition of empirical inducements," or the application of examples from 
"anthropology, theology, physics, or hyperphysics," Kant proposed that 

reason ... can gradually become their [incentives'] master; on the other hand a 
mixed doctrine of morals, put together from incentives of feeling and inclination 
and also of rational concepts must make the mind waver between motives that 
cannot be brought under any principle, that can lead only contingently to what is 
good and can very often also lead to what is evil (4:411, pp. 22-23). 
And further: 

. . .all moral concepts have their seat and origin completely a prior in reason, ... in 
this purity of their origin lies their dignity, so that they can serve us as supreme 
practical principles; that in adding anything empirical to them one subtracts just 
that much from their genuine influence and from the unlimited worth of actions 
... (4:411, p. 23). 

Kant assigned this "mixed doctrine of morals" to what he called "popular 
philosophy," which draws from concrete examples of human behavior and decision- 
making. It was his intent to lift pure reason - independent of examples and capable of 
presenting theory - up and out of this construct, in order to describe the metaphysics of 
morals. Moreover, Kant assumed that not all human will is good. A person's will is 
often subjectively influenced by some non-universalizable maxim, or end goal, or 
through conformity with some objective law, which Kant called "necessitation." 
However, if a person is to act from duty and with good will, reason is required. When 
reason commands a person to act, it is called an "imperative" and is expressed in the 
word "ought" (1785/1997, 4:413, p 24). 


The Categorical Imperative 

Kant distinguished between the "hypothetical" imperative from the "categorical." 
The hypothetical imperative represents that which is the means to some desired end, i.e. 
"If I want to lose weight, I ought to go on a diet." The categorical imperative is "that 
which represent(s) an action as objectively necessary of itself, without reference to 
another end" (Kant, 1785/1997, 4:414, p. 25). It is attended by a will which conforms 
only to reason and duty. 

[the categorical imperative] . . . has to do not with the matter of the action and 
what is to result from it, but with the form and the principle from which the action 
itself follows and the essentially good in the action consists in the disposition, let 
the resuh be what it may. This imperative may be called the imperative of 
morality(4:416, p. 27). 

If an action is taken out of "respect for [universal] law," in spite of personal 
disinclination and a likely undesirable outcome, then that action is deemed as one which 
emanates from veritable good will, and is the true moral action (Kant, 1785/1997, 4:400, 
p. 13). The "law" Kant refers to is the self-imposed law of the universal categorical 
imperative - that which the actor or "lawgiver" (4:438, p. 45) decides is the universally 
"right" action. The categorical imperative must pass three criteria, or Principles. The 
first is the Principle of Universal Law. Kant expressed it in this way: "/ ought never to 
act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become universal 
law " (4:402, p. 14) and later: "act only in accordance with that maxim through which 


you can at the same time will that it become a universal law" (4:421, p. 31). That is, the 
same standard or rule which governed the action must be able to be applied in the same 
way to all similar circumstances. Similarly, Kant's "universal imperative of duty" states, 
"act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of 
nature " (4:42 1 , p. 3 1 ). Conversely, any action or maxim - that is, the rule governing the 
action - that could not become universal law lacks moral content, and should be 
"repudiated" (4:403, p. 16). 

Kant made no claim that such a law actually was proven to exist - he only argued 
in the principle of its moral supremacy. Moreover, if such a law were to be played out in 
human existence, it would be that very human experience - with all of its inherent 
subjective influence - that would detract from its being of "absolutely good will" (Kant, 
1785/1997, 4:426, p. 35). 
Deontology and the Ethical Dilemma 

Deontology is the primary consideration of rules or obligations. Therefore, an 
ethical dilemma arises when two or more rules, principles, or obligations come into 

Act-deontology versus rw/e-(ieonto/ogy._Rule-deontologists such as Immanuel 
Kant appeal to principles as moral authority. These principles may be seen as either 
absolute (sovereign under any circumstances) or objective (may, under certain 
circumstances, be subordinated under some other principle) (Frankena, 1973, p. 25-26; 
Pojman, 2002, p. 137). Kant and more contemporary ethicists such as W.D. Ross (1877- 
1971) speak in terms of "duty." Ross listed those duties which he considered prima facie, 
or self-evident, in terms of their moral authority: promise keeping, fidelity, gratitude for 


favors, beneficence, justice, self-improvement, and nonmaleficence (Ross, 1930, p. 21 
cited in Pojman, p. 137). For Ross and other objectivist deontologists, an ethical 
dilemma would occur when one or more of these "duties" came into conflict with one 
another. In this way, Ross' deontology differs from Kant's in that Ross believes there is 
more than one principle worthy of adherence, a pluralistic view. An absolutist 
deontologist such as Kant, believing in the supremacy of an absolute, universal moral 
standard, and possessing the rationalist view that reason was the key to its discovery, 
would never acknowledge the validity of a true conflict, although he would acknowledge 
the human propensity for disinclination toward doing one's duty. 

Act deontologists see each act as a unique ethical occasion and believe 
that we must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting 
our conscience or our intuitions or by making a choice apart from any 
rules (Pojman, 2002, p. 135). 

Deontology and moral relativism. Moral authority in this case is one's 
own conscience. "The main argument for act-deontologism, ... is the claim that 
each situation is different and even unique, so that no general rules can possibly 
be of much help in dealing with it, except as mere rules of thumb" (Frankena, 
1973, pp 24-25). Participants in Carol Gilligan's 1982 study recorded in her book 
In a Different Voice came to see morality in their choice about abortion based 
entirely on their own circumstances and through their own conscience, without 
adherence to universal principle or law. Joseph Fletcher (1966) used the term 
"situation ethics" to describe an act-deontology that held the primacy of love as 
the final arbiter of ethical decision-making, and the "rightness" of any decision as 


being wholly dependent on the circumstances, or situation, involved. This ethical 
stance is one of moral relativism - the morality of an action is relative to the 
circumstances which surround it. "The situationist holds that whatever is the 
most loving thing in the situation is the right and good thing (Fletcher, 1966, p. 

Contemporary Deontology 

Frankena describes "extreme act deontologists" as those who "maintain that we 
can and must see or somehow decide separately in each particular situation what is the 
right or obligatory thing to do" (1973, p. 16). Hannah Arendt, a contemporary ethicist, 
embodied this type of thinking when she declared immoral the actions of the United 
States government in the Vietnam War. The U.S. government justified its promulgation 
of war based in teleological thinking about the presumed benefits of eradicating 
communism as well as historical notions about the failure of prior policies of 
"appeasement." Arendt pointed to the complexity of the world and the situation and 
declared as overly-simplistic the consequentialist justification for what she and many 
others viewed as crimes against humanity. She attributed the evil that men do not to 
historical forces leading to rational (if misguided) lessons from history, but rather to the 
shockingly "novel" and utterly unpredictably evil experiences exemplified by the 
Holocaust and German and Russian totalitarianism. (Arendt, 1994, pp. 3 1 9 - 320, cited 
in Villa, 2000, p. 30). Her stance here echoes Kant's warning against using history as 
example of what ought to be done: "Nor could one give worse advice to morality than by 


wanting to derive it from examples. ... Imitation has no place at all in matters of morality 
..." (Kant, 1785/1997, 4:409, p. 21). 

Arendt also revealed the potential for the perversion of a notion of "natural law" 
in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Using the ideology of "natural law" 
as well as "historical law" (that is, that "all laws have become laws of movement"), she 
illustrated how Hitler and his regime based all acts of genocide on the ideology of 
inevitable movement toward racial supremacy. In this sense, perpetrators of the 
Holocaust were convinced to be relieved of personal agency - the totalitarian ideology 
was created to be a force greater than individual action (Villa, 2000, p. 18). 

Contemporary Deontology and the "Concrete Other. ". In 1973, William K. 
Frankena wrote, "In any event, it seems to me that in order for one's maxims to be 
considered moral duties, it is not enough that one be able consistently to will one's 
maxims to be universally acted on. Much depends on the point of view from which one 
wills one's rules to be universally followed . . . There is more to the moral point of view 
than being willing to universalize one's rules. . ." (p. 33). This unwillingness to push 
one's maxims on others - or the adoption of a unilateral stance to moral authority - is 
central to contemporary ethicists' response to traditional deontological, universalist 

Feminist moral theorists such as Gilligan and Noddings "have developed a rich 
and significant body of work that has analyzed moral emotions and moral character" 
(Benhabib, 1992, p. 49) in part as a response to the erasure of the "affective and emotive 
bases of ethics" inherent in Kantian and neo-Kantian theories of morality, or a "gender 
blindness of much modern and contemporary universalist theory" (Benhabib, p. 51). 


Basing theories of moral growth on the idea of masculine autonomy which comes from 
going out in the world denies the kind of moral growth traditionally experienced by 
women and children as they are "sustained by a network of relationships" (Benhabib, p. 
51). Benhabib claims that moral theory has privileged "moral judgments" over "moral 
emotions and character," and in so doing, has made much of it gender blind, hence the 
need for acknowledgement of the "concrete other." She claims that Kantian universalist 
theory assumes a stance that excludes the purview of women and other persons 
underrepresented in traditional moral philosophy. She doesn't rule out the moral 
imperative of universalizing one's judgment, only that the judgment must be rendered 
within a dialogue (a moral discourse) that includes the concrete other as equals in the 
conversation - one that practices a "reversibility of perspectives" inherent in moral 
development (Benhabib, p. 52). The capacity to judge a situation from a multiplicity of 
perspectives ["representative thinking" in Arendt's term (Arendt, 2003, pp. 139-140), 
"ideal reversible role-taking" in Kohlberg's (Berkowitz, 1985, p. 8)] is crucial to the 
moral conversation, or the exercise of "good judgment" (Benhabib, p. 54). 

Kant and Aquinas would agree with Ackerman's criticism of Principal Taylor's 
(the fictitious principal mentioned earlier in this section), decision to suspend the child. 
By punishing the child under pressure from external forces, this principal was not acting 
according to the principle of nonmalfeasance, or "do no harm," to which the principal 
was bound. Moreover, her error in judgment is made even more egregious when 
applying Kant's standard of universalizability. Surely this principal would not want her 
decision of suspension to become the universal standard for administrative decision- 
making. The idea that the school community may be displeased by the decision (a 


threatening outcome for any school administrator) should not enter into the decision 
making at all. In the deontological system, one must follow the principle regardless of the 
consequences. Moreover, carrying out her duty toward the child with the full knowledge 
that the community would be displeased would have, in Kant's view, added to the moral 
value of the duty. 

Contemporary deontology and impartiality. The contemporary deontologist John 
Rawls has been described as "offering the most comprehensive contemporary 
philosophical justification of justice as the preferred ethical basis for morality..." 
(Berkowitz, 1985, p. 8). In his hook A Theory of Justice, Rawls (1971) set out to describe 
"the nature and aims of a perfectly just society" in service of an ideal theory. Using the 
principle "justice as fairness," he sought to build on Kant's and others' ideas of "social 
contract" in order to explicate all that which serves the fundamental interests of human 
association. According to Rawls, the choices about how to generate and sustain an ideal, 
hypothetical just society must be made impartially by its members who are in ignorance 
of personal status. In this way, justice is borne of fairness. He uses the metaphor of a 
"veil of ignorance" to describe the ideal ethical stance, wherein the decision-maker has 
no understanding of his or her ovra situation. 

This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of 
principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social 
circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design 
principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result 
of a fair agreement or bargain (Rawls, p. 11). 


According to Rawls, a decision devoid of personal implication or consequence, 
based purely in application of the principle of justice, is inherently the most desirable. 
Therefore, a society that is founded and self-evaluated according to mutually agreed upon 
conceptions of justice, one in which members voluntarily and of free will enter and self- 
impose these conceptions, is a just society. In Rawls' terminology, this "initial choice 
situation" is the "original position" (Rawls, 1971, p. 16). Rawls also uses the term 
"contract" to suggest the hypothetical process through which the mutual "accept[ance] of 
moral principles" is obtained (p. 14), specifically for its connotation of the "rational 
choice" (p. 15) inherent in the purposeful selection and agreement as well as its public 
nature. In the original position, all members have equal say in proposing and critiquing 
principles of justice. They are all ignorant of their own personal situation, and therefore 
cannot argue in favor of any principle that would privilege one class over another. The 
outcome is a set of principles, ranked in order of importance, that an impartial (but still 
self-interested) group can deliberately and reasonably agree to. Under this system, 
Rawls' asks which of our taken-for-granted notions of justice will hold firm (such as 
racial discrimination or religious tolerance) and which will falter when scrutinized from a 
purely impartial viewpoint (such as distribution of wealth and power) (p. 16). Rawls 
refers to this process of individually examining principles of justice, adopting some and 
revising others, as "reflective equilibrium," the working toward some state which is not 
necessarily stable but reflective of the goal of the "original position"(p. 18). 

Rawls' theory of justice is similar to Kant's deontology in that morality lies in the 
autonomous adherence to self-imposed, universal laws and principles. It differs. 

- Kohlberg's Stage theory of Moral Development includes Stage 5, "which is based on universal human 
rights and democratic agreement or contract.." (Kohlberg, 1985, p. 79) 


however, in the idea of a plurality of voices weighing in to define its universal nature. 
For Kant, the categorical imperative was self-imposed only after one asked oneself to 
apply it universally. For Rawls, Benhabib, and Arendt, the imperative is legitimate if and 
only if it acknowledges the voices of the entire community to be affected by the 
universalization of the principle or law. This is a defining feature of contemporary ethics. 
Enlightenment theories of ethics were articulated by men of learning and privilege, who 
enjoyed elevated status in the political world as well as in their own homes, and who may 
or may not have had the welfare of the underrepresented members of society in mind 
when they espoused their notions of justice. 

Rushworth Kidder promotes a deontology based on the idea that a fundamental 
core set of moral values exists across time and culture. There are, he claims, moral 
imperatives such as "do not kill" and "do not steal" universally accepted and codified in 
all major religions and cultures. Kidder's definition of an ethical dilemma involves two 
of these core values in conflict with one another. He uses the term "paradigm" to 
describe common conflicts: justice versus mercy, short term versus long term, self versus 
community, and truth versus loyalty. Although he acknowledges the teleological stance, 
his book How Good People Make Tough Choices (1995) - designed to help people think 
about ethical issues more clearly - guides the reader into a system of viewing ethical 
dilemmas within one or more of the four paradigms, and then choosing the side most 
closely aligned with cherished values. If Kidder were to counsel Principal Taylor, he 
would most likely tell her that she should show mercy to the child, rather than uphold the 
prevailing desire for justice: 


Compelled to choose between justice and mercy, I would (all things being equal) 
stick with mercy, which to me speaks of love and compassion. One reason: I can 
imagine a world so full of love that justice, as we now know it, would no longer 
be necessary. But I cannot imagine a world so full of justice that there would no 
longer be any need for love. Given only one choice, I would take love. 
(Kidder, p. 221) 

What then could be more plausible than that the right is to promote the 
general good - that our actions and our rules, if we must have rules, are to 
be decided upon by determining which of them produces or may be 
expected to produce the greatest general balance of good over evil? 
(Frankena, 1973, p. 34) 

In the eighteenth century, David Hume, a Scottish ethicist and historian, wrote A 
Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 
(1777), both critical responses to the previously accepted ideas of man as "ethical 
rationalist" (Magill, 1961, p. 489). He put forth a "mitigated skepticism" concerning the 
natural abilities of people to rationally and through reason and contemplation do what 
ought to be done. Hume did not believe it was possible to arrive at the most ethical 
decision purely through reason and contemplation, although he did acknowledge that 
reasoning was a necessary step (Magill, 1961, p. 494). He distinguished between the 
rational and the sentimental, the latter more closely approximating man's ethical 


decision-making, due to the human tendency to act partially on feeling, and with an 
inherent lack of full knowledge. His Enquiry was a study of the vices and virtues of 
man through the ages, undertaken so that he might better understand the nature of human 
morality. Hume articulated the notion of "universal principles, from which all censure or 
approbation is uhimately derived" (Hume, 1777, cited in Magill, 1961, p. 489). He 
determined that there were two principles that were universally "good" - beneficence and 
justice, and that all ethical behavior belonged to one or both of these principles. 
Beneficence and justice, above all, serve utilitarian ends, and therein lay their moral 

The teleological or consequential school of thought places utilitarianism - or the 
greatest good for the greatest number (Beckner, 2004, p. 61) - as the key determinant of 
the moral right. Regardless of the motive, what is "most right" is that which leads to the 
best outcome for the most people, or "a greater balance of good over evil" (Frankena, 
1973, p. 14). The ends justify the means. Jeremy Bentham [who, with John Stuart Mill, 
was an English social reformer of the 19"^ century (Pojman, 2002, p. 108)] grounded the 
theory of "utilitarianism" in Hume's philosophy of the virtues of utility and defined it as 
. . .that which tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness 

either for the individual or for the human community. The good of the latter (the 

greatest number) must be the determining criteria of the rightness or wrongness of 

conduct (Beckner, 2004, p. 16). 
Beauchamp and Childress (1984) claim that the most salient characteristic of 
utilitarianism as a moral theory lies in its singleness of purpose: 


. . .that there is one and only one basic principle in ethics, the principle of 
utility. This principle asserts that we ought in all circumstances to 
produce the greatest possible balance of value over disvalue for all persons 
affected (or the least possible balance of disvalue if only evil resuhs can 
be brought about (p. 45). 
Whereas Bentham's utilitarianism sought to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, 
devising a mathematical formula attempting to quantify such qualities, (Frankena, 1973, 
p. 35), John Stuart Mill proposed a more refined theory of utilitarianism that considered 
"pleasure" to be of a higher order than in Bentham's "hedonistic" sense (Pojman, 2002, 
p. 1 10). The goodness to be promoted, namely pleasure and freedom from pain, is 
intrinsic, not extrinsic, as intrinsic goodness is in itself value-free (Beauchamp & 
Childress, 1984, p. 45). "Pleasure" or "goodness" for a "non-hedonistic" or "pluralistic" 
utilitarian is the maximizing of "power, knowledge, self-realization, perfection, etc." for 
the people as a measure of the "greatest general good" (Frankena, p. 15). 

In the utilitarian view, moral authority is neither derived from motive nor 
adherence to principle. Moral authority is derived from a calculated course of action 
which maximizes intrinsic value for the greatest number. Consistent with the principle of 
moral objectivism, John Stuart Mill stressed the importance of impartiality in this 
calculation or decision-making: 

Utilitarianism is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned. As 
between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as 
strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. (Mill, 1863, cited in 
Kidder, 1995, p. 156) 


Utilitarianism and the Ethical Dilemma 

Act Utilitarianism versus Rule Utilitarianism. The act utilitarian will ask, "What 
is it that I should do in this situation that will bring about 'the greatest balance of good 
over evil?'" (Frankena, 1973, p. 35) The act utilitarian "skips the level of rules and 
justifies actions directly by appeal to the principle of utility" (Beauchamp and Childress, 
1984, p. 48). The question is specific to the one doing the asking, and there is no 
criterion for universalization, although the precedent set by such an action is considered 
in the overall balance. With general utilitarianism, the criteria of universalization ("What 
if everyone else similarly situated did the same thing?") is brought back into 
consideration (Frankena, p. 38). Even so, the act utilitarian, although agreeing that it is 
usually better if everyone followed the rules, (e.g. truth-telling), will argue that 
sometimes it is better (and more moral) to break the rule. The beneficial consequence is 
the final arbiter of what is right. 

Rule Utilitarianism has, much like deontology, the centrality of rules over actions 
in determining moral supremacy. However, unlike deontologism, the central question is, 
"Which rules will promote the greatest general good for everyone? That is, the question 
is not which action has the greatest utility, but which rule has?" (Frankena, 1973, p. 39). 
A rule-utilitarian would argue that the act-utilitarian, in breaking some rule, was in fact 
adhering to some stronger rule, or principle, such as "do no harm." This adherence to a 
stronger principle is what makes an action right. According to Frankena, the idea of 
"distributive justice" is important to rule-utilitarianism. That is, there is a criteria of 
equal distribution of "good" for the most people inherent in the overall balance of "good 
over evil" (Frankena, p. 42). 


Aristotle and Virtues Ethics 
Aristotle believed in the primacy of values and virtues. He answered the question 
"What is the best life?" with the notion of happiness - not the self-indulgent or euphoric 
kind, but the kind of happiness that is derived from a life lived virtuously, that is, with 
prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (Beckner, 2004, p. 78; Nash, 2002, p.82). 
Aristotle believed in moral virtue, which was learned incidentally and reflectively from 
life experience, and intellectual virtue, learned through purposeful instruction (Nash, 
2002, p. 82). A virtuous person earnestly works toward finding the "Golden Mean" 
(Beckner, p. 74), or that ideal point in the middle of a person's human tendencies 
between excess and deficiency, both of which he deemed "vice." (Aristotle, trans. 1893, 
p. 35) The Golden Mean may be different depending on the circumstances, but there is 
always one to be sought. It is in this search that persons combine contemplation with 
action, and, in so doing, become increasingly virtuous. 

. . .moral virtue is moderation or observance of the mean . . . and on this sense it is 
a hard thing to be good; . . . Thus, anyone can be angry - that is quite easy; 
anyone can give money away or spend it: but to do these things to the right 
person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right object, and in the right 
manner, is not what everybody can do, and is by no means easy; and that is the 
reason why right doing is rare and praiseworthy and noble (Aristotle, trans. 1893, 
p. 40). 

Aristotle's way of thinking is the ancestor of the philosophical school of thought 
called "virtue ethics" (Pojman, 2002, p. 158). Aristotle believed that men possessed the 
capacity to grow into their natural character through rational contemplation and action. 


Happiness for men and mankind, in the Aristotlean view, can be compared to the growth 
of an acorn into a strong oak tree. Within the acorn lies the essential nature of the tree - 
with proper nourishment and care, the tree is the natural end point for the acorn (Magill, 
1961, p. 158). The giving of proper nourishment and care to oneself in service of the 
goal of happiness Aristotle termed "self-love" (Fletcher, 1966, p. 112) and it was 
considered by him to be a necessary condition of virtuous living. This "self-love" is not 
undertaken in the narcissistic or self-indulgent sense. It is taking a contemplative, 
rational course of action over a lifetime in order that one may better serve humanity. In 
other words, "... a virtuous agent has a well-ordered soul. That is a soul in which reason 
has authority over desire and passion, so that they aim at their proper objects" (Jacobs, 
2002, p. 51). In this sense, Aristotle's views are also teleological in that the "end" or the 
"goal" is the primary motivator for moral action. However, Aristotle did not mean the 
outcome of the event was central to what "ought" to happen, it was the human end - the 
full development of man as a virtuous being, that was most important, that was (and 
always will be) the goal. For Aristotle, there exists a natural alignment of virtue and 
happiness in persons. "Virtuous agents find virtuous activity naturally pleasing" (Jacobs, 
2002, p. 51), and they are intrinsically motivated to do that which virtue requires. This 
school of thought includes the idea that as people grow and reflect on their experiences, 
they can and do become increasingly virtuous. This is called "aspiration ethics" 
(Beckner, 2004, p. 144; Fletcher, 1966, p. 96), and psychological theories of moral 
development support and extend this notion. 


But if happiness be the exercise of virtue, it is reasonable to suppose that it will be 
the exercise of the highest virtue; and that will be the virtue or excellence of the 
best part of us. 

Now, that part or faculty - call it reason or what you will - which seems naturally 
to rule and take the lead, and to apprehend things noble and divine - whether it be 
itself divine, or only the divinest part of us - is the faculty the exercise of which, 
in its proper excellence, will be perfect happiness (Axistotle, trans. 1893, p. 234). 
Virtues ethics has become an attractive alternative to deontological and 
teleological theories, due to the acknowledgment of the humanity inherent in morality. A 
system of ethics based solely in rules and actions, says Pojman, leaves out the humanity 
of the enterprise, so that doing the morally correct thing becomes a kind of "mental 
plumbing, moral casuistry, a set of hairsplitting distinctions that somehow loses track of 
the purpose of morality altogether" (2002, p. 161). Moreover, if one does the morally 
correct thing in the end, there is no distinction between that which is done 
enthusiastically or grudgingly. Rather than relying on pure reasoning and rationalism, 
virtues ethics allows us to look at the exemplary lives of Abraham Lincoln, Mother 
Teresa, and Mohandas Gandhi, and ask "What would [Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Gandhi] 
do?" Other criticisms of rule and action based ethical systems are that (1) they lack a 
motivational component; (2) they are founded on a theological-legal model that is no 
longer appropriate; (3) they ignore the spiritual dimension of morality; and (4) they 
overemphasize the principle of autonomy and neglect the communal context of morality 
(Pojman, p. 161). 


The "virtues" of virtues ethics have traditionally been separated into two separate 
types: moral and nonmoral virtues. Moral virtues, such as benevolence and honesty, are 
tied to objective moral principles. Nonmoral virtues, such as courage and patience, may 
act in service of moral principles, but not always (Frankena, 1973, cited in Pojman, 2002, 
p. 164). Virtues ethics takes a pluralistic viewpoint. That is, ". . .there are different ends 
or virtues worth pursuing for their own sakes, or distinct intrinsic goods, or distinct and 
irreducible principles (or all of these)" (Jacobs, 2002, p. 16). Although Aristotle and 
other Virtues Systems ethicists do not promote guidelines for actions, there is in the 
theory an inherent duty to behave virtuously. 

Aristotle would not judge Principal Taylor's decision on the basis of whether 
strict adherence to the rules were followed (a nonconsequentialist, deontological 
viewpoint), nor whether the outcome proved to be in the best interests of the majority (a 
consequentialist, utilitarian viewpoint). In fact, Aristotle would most likely frustrate this 
principal in his refusal to offer guidance, as virtues based ethics, being pluralistic, is not 
prescriptive (Pojman, 2002, p. 171). "Pluralism implies that there is no single measure or 
standard of value that will decide all conflicts of obligation or determine the weights of 
all the values at issue in a situation or a judgment" (Jacobs, 2002, p. 16). Regardless of 
Principal Taylor's decision, Aristotle would recognize the competing claims of 
obligation, and say the principal was acting in the most ethically responsible way if she 
acted as her best, most virtuous self- acting out of neither fear nor self interest 
(Beckner, 2004, p. 145), but in accordance with her idealized moral self (Nash, 2002). 
The principal's wisdom behind her decision is the key determinant of the "rightness" of 
her decision. Aristotle's definition of wisdom is based on a construct of "intellectual 


virtue." Intellectual virtue includes practical wisdom, which he defined as "a true and 
reasoned state of capacity to act with regard to the things that are good or bad for man" 
(Magill, 1961, p. 161). Practical wisdom includes intuitive reason - that part of human 
thought that understands viscerally universal principles of morality. Scientific 
knowledge, another intellectual virtue, is that which is concerned with what is "logically 
necessary" (Magill, 1961, p. 161). Philosophic wisdom is that which combines intuitive 
reason with scientific knowledge, and guides the person toward the ideal action (Magill, 
1961, p. 161). It is through contemplation that people realize the benefits of wisdom and 
grow into more intellectually virtuous beings. 

Pojman illustrates the difference between the deontologist and virtue ethics belief 

. . .The moral law may require me to give a part of my income to feed the poor, but 
I don't have to like them; I give my money because it is right to do so. ... The 
virtue ethicist rejects this kind of thinking. While we don't have direct control 
over our emotions, we do have indirect control over them. ... we can take steps to 
inculcate the right dispositions and attitudes. ... We are responsible for our 
character (2002, p. 176). 

From the Philosophy of Ethics to the Psychology of Morality: 

Theories of Individual Moral Development: 

Early and contemporary deontological and utilitarian theories of ethics are 

concerned primarily with social phenomenon, or, in a grand sense, how members of 

society decide to behave toward one another. Virtues ethics, concerned with individual 


moral growth, is closely related in content to psychological theories of moral 
development. In drawing this connection from philosophy to psychology, Dexheimer 
writes, "Ethical philosophies from Aristotle to Phenix, Barnard, and Maslow have all 
indicated that the real source of ethical behavior exists within the individual and not in 
any code of ethics" (1969, p. 277). In this next section, I discuss three important theorists 
of individual morality: Kohlberg, Noddings, and Gilligan. As with the first section of 
this paper on early and contemporary ethicists, this selection of authors is not intended to 
be exhaustive. I have selected these theorists because they represent to me three distinct 
but salient voices in the field of moral development, and their ideas regarding the 
individual perspective inherent in ethical decision-making is relevant to my co- 
researchers' narratives. 

Lawrence Kohlberg 
Kohlberg' s stage theory of moral development provides an important early 
conceptual framework for understanding how people grow into their moral selves. 
Critics (Friedman, 1985; Gilligan, 1982) point to the privilege of the autonomous, 
impartial, "male" perspective in Kohlberg's evaluation of the "highest" stage of moral 
reasoning, to the detriment of moral reasoning which includes more female concerns of 
care and context. Nevertheless, Kohlberg himself claimed that his stage theory presumed 
the primacy of rational, impartial justice from the outset, that his theory was concerned 
with "justice reasoning" only and "that it is unfortunate that it was simply called 'moral 
reasoning' as if it represented the whole breadth and substance of the moral cognitive 
domain" (Friedman, p. 40, ching Kohlberg et al., 1983). Kohlberg considered his theory 
"limited to what he calls structural stages in the development of reasoning about justice 


and rights" (Friedman, p. 40) and, as such, is valuable to our understanding of how 
people develop their understanding of right versus wrong. 

Lawrence Kohlberg began collecting data on the moral decision making of young 
men in the 1950s and continued his research for twenty-five years (May, 1985, p. 116). 
His research entailed asking people for their responses to the Heinz dilemma and 
categorizing their responses into one of six stages of moral development. His results led 
him to conclude that there are universal, sequential, and distinct stages, each representing 
growth in moral thinking, that account for differences in the way people reason about 
moral dilemmas. "Kohlberg identified six stages, two stages occurring at three distinct 
levels - the pre-conventional, the conventional, and the post-conventional" (Duska & 
Whelan, 1975,p.45). 
Pre-conventional Level: 

Stage 1: Punishment and Obedience Orientation, in which threat of punishment 
and obedience to authority act as moral authority; 

Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation, in which one is motivated to "satisfy 
one's own needs," reciprocating with others if necessary; 
Conventional Level: 

Stage 3: Interpersonal Concordance of "Good Boy - Nice Girl" Orientation, in 
which gaining the approval of others constitutes moral authority; 

Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation, in which adherence to rules for the good of 
society is the moral arbher; 
Post-Conventional Level: 


Stage 5: Social-Contract Legalistic Orientation, in which standards of behavior 
are determined by societal consensus or democratic governance; 

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle Orientation, in which moral authority is 
one's own conscience consistent with universal ethical principles (Duska & Whelan, 
1975, pp 45-47). Kohlberg's Sixth stage of moral development has been said to be 
"virtually identical to Rawls' theory of justice" (May, 1985, p. 135). 

Kohlberg's stages of moral development parallel Piaget's stages of cognitive 
development and, like Piaget's stages, share three characteristics: (1) invariant sequence, 
wherein people may stay at the same stage or move one stage further in the sequence, but 
they do not move backwards; (2) hierarchy, where lower stages of thought are replaced 
by higher (and more "morally adequate") ways of thinking; and (3) structured wholes, or 
individual consistency of reasoning regardless of the context (May, 1985, p. 1 17). 

Much of the criticism of Kohlberg's theory stems from the superior value he 
placed on what he termed "Stage six" reasoning (May, 1985). It is at this stage that 
Kohlberg claimed some particularly morally evolved people abandon any ideas of moral 
relativism and construct their reasoning purely on principle. He is dismissive of those 
responses which seem to contradict consistent reasoning, in particular, those which are 
initially based in the universal principle of the supreme value of human life, but which 
then stop short of universalizing the reasoning (May, 1985, p. 120). May also points out 
that Kohlberg himself was reluctant to claim complete closure on the stages. In 1981, he 
posed the possibility of a seventh stage which goes beyond "contractarian justice 
deliberations" (May, 1985, p. 122) and encompasses a more spiritual motive ("agape") 
for moral actions. May claims that the absence of closure on the stage theory opens the 


way for a fatal flaw in the claim that Kohlberg has discovered, through empirical 
evidence, the "deep structure" of moral reasoning stages (p. 122). What may seem like 
evidence of structure may be flawed if the stages are incomplete. May also criticizes the 
weight that Kolhberg places on the idea of "partiality to oneself as a diminishing value 
of morality. Stage two respondents act out of self interest but so do. May asserts, Stage 
five respondents when they espouse reversibility - that they act in such a way that their 
own rights and responsibilities of a member of a community will be protected too. That 
Stage five thinkers differenfiate between themselves and others, and Stage two thinkers 
do not, does not seem to May to be evidence that Stage two thinkers actively disregard 
the needs of others. Both sets of respondents ultimately act in their own best interests. 

Years later, Kohlberg described his version of a "just community," drawing 
largely on Dewey's idea of democratic community and Durkheim's theory that 
membership in a community creates an "experience" which "induces in the individual 
moral sentiments" (Kohlberg, 1985, p. 84). Kohlberg claimed his theory of a just 
community "does not make a typological dichotomy between justice and care" 
(Kohlberg, 1985, p. 84). 

Carol Gilligan 

In 1982, Carol Gilligan wrote In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and 
Women 's Development, largely in response to Kohlberg's theory of moral growth and 
development which, she claimed, deleteriously ignored the considerations of the moral 
growth of women. Citing prior studies of moral judgment which highlighted essential 
differences between men and women (Haan, 1975; Holstein, 1976), Gilligan asserted an 
error in the research which privileged the masculine mode over the feminine: 


. . .the moral judgments of women differ from those of men in the greater extent to 
which women's judgments are tied to feehngs of empathy and compassion and 
are concerned with the resolution of real as opposed to hypothetical dilemmas. 
However, as long as the categories by which development is assessed are derived 
from research on men, divergence from the masculine standard can be seen only 
as a failure of development. As a result, the thinking of women is often classified 
with that of children (Gilligan, p. 69 - 70). 

Considering that the voices of women in discussing matters of morality have 
traditionally been subverted by the power of male voices, Gilligan chose to examine the 
language that women use when describing conflict in an area that is strictly within their 
purview: birth control and abortion. It is in these questions where, Gilligan says, ". . .the 
dilemma of choice enters a central arena of women's lives" (1982, p. 70). However, 
unlike men, for whom "independent assertion in judgment and action" mark the entrance 
to adulthood, women have been judged and judge themselves on their capacity to care for 
others, and therein lies the real dilemma. Gilligan found that, at the heart of their 
morality, women seek to refrain from hurting others. She called this the "crifical moral 
issue" (p. 71). In her interviews with twenty-nine women Gilligan found that the 
language of morality for women existed in a context of "care and responsibility in 
relationships rather than as one of rights and rules" (p. 73), and that this language, when 
viewed in and of itself as a legitimate moral orientation, signified a differently ordered 
moral hierarchy, not an inferior one. Rather than a stage theory which privileges "justice" 
thinking, Gilligan's stage theory of moral development privileges the development of an 
"ethic of care" (p. 74). Care for the self ("selfishness"), grows into a sense of 


"responsibility" for others. However, the "exclusion of herself ' as an equally worthy 
recipient of care leads to a "reconsideration of relationships" and, ultimately, a "new 
understanding of the interconnection between other and self (p. 74). The universal 
imperative remains "care" - for oneself as well as others, and, in particular, for the 
relationships between the two. Morally evolved people, Gilligan seems to say, place a 
primacy of concern for real-life caring relationships as the ultimate guide for moral 
development. That Kohlberg maintains this is representative of "conventional" thinking, 
and therefore of lesser moral adequacy than "post-conventional" thinking, is where 
Gilligan and other feminist ethicists take issue. 

Nel Noddings, the ethic of care, and subjectivism 
Nel Noddings writes in the Foreword of Lynn Beck's (1994) book Reclaiming 
Educational Administration as a Caring Profession: 

When we genuinely care, we want to do our very best to effect worthwhile 
results for the recipients of our care. ... It is an orientation of deep 
concern that carries us out of ourselves and into the lives, despairs, 
struggles, and hopes of others. To care is to respond, and to respond 
responsibly, we must continually strive for increased competence. ( p. ix) 
According to Noddings, the greatest human virtue is the capacity to empathize 
with and care for others. Moral decisions grounded in care for others supercede all other 
ways of thinking based on sets of rules, probable consequences, etc. Any action 
motivated by care for others is inherently the ethically correct one. Moreover, any action 
that strengthens a culture of care is the responsibility of the community leader. 


Considering the ethical dilemma encountered by the fictitious Principal Gerry 
Taylor, Noddings would wish the school principal to act consistently with her intuition to 
protect the child from harm. She would most likely agree with Donaldson's assessment, 
in that she must further communicate to her school community that all decisions would 
be made on the basis of care for individual children, and that this stance was necessary to 
creating a culture of caring. 

Aristotle's and Nodding's conceptualization of ethics is grounded in a human's 
inherent nature or character, rather than in principles. Moral authority, in this case, has a 
subjective, human face. As such, one's intuition is a legitimate factor in decision- 
making. The central question is not "What shall I do?" but "Who shall I be?" (Nash, 
2002, p. 82). In contrast, the first two schools of thought, deontology and teleology or 
utilitarianism, separate principle from the person, and, in so doing, attempt to remove the 
human element from ethical decision-making, lessening the effect that intuition or "gut 
feeling" may have on the process. Moral authority is found in objectivity. Reason is 

In his essay entitled Emotions, Morality, and Understanding, Hirmian (1985) 
argues in favor of the positive role that emotions play in moral reasoning. Refuting the 
idea that emotions are non-cognitive, passive phenomena over which we have no control, 
he proposes that emotions - such as compassion - are an important component to the way 
we make sense of ourselves and others, "in a single act which is both knowing and 
feeling" (Hinman, p. 63). Hiimian echoes the Aristotlean view that what is important in 
morality is not the application of reason to determine some action, but in the 


"development of the moral awareness which leads to choice" (Hinman, p. 66), or the 
notion of "moral agency:" 

The moral agent is not just a Kantian rational self or a utilitarian calculator, but 
rather a whole person, a person who not only thinks and acts, but also feels and 
perceives. Morality then becomes not the impartial application of principles, but 
the moral cuhivation of the entire self: the development of moral perceptions and 
emotions as well as the sharpening of our moral reasoning skills (Hirmian, 1985, 
p. 67). 

By acknowledging the role that emotions play in making moral judgments, 
Hinman is voicing the subjectivist view that there is no moral objectivity. Facts of values 
do not, in and of themselves, compel us to act or avoid. It is rather the human tendency 
to ascribe repugnance or desire to act that renders a moral judgment. This is not to say 
that morality is a matter of personal preference. "Morality is still full-force, full-fledged 
morality and need lose nothing by being based upon human subjectivity" (Jacobs, 2002, 
p. 23). It has authority over our actions in the way that personal preference, or individual 
taste, does not. 

We judge what to do, what practices to accept, and which to discourage on the 
basis of what elicits our admiration our gratitude, or esteem, our contempt, our 
fear, our distrust, and so forth. Moral judgments uhimately have a basis in the 
passions and in desires, in something/e/?. Also, they render the judgments 
practical by giving them motivating energy. It is feeling that moves us, even 
when it is feeling informed by factual knowledge and structured by reasoning 
(Jacobs, 2002, p. 25). 


Hinman is critical of Kohlberg's stage theory which places primacy on 
"universality and impartiality in moral judgments" (Hinman, 1985, p. 67), which then 
necessarily devalues the positive role that emotions can play in moral decision-making. 
Kohlberg's use of the Heinz dilemma as an assessment tool comes under criticism, too. 
Hinman refutes the idea that "the agent's own personal history is largely irrelevant to 
moral deliberation" (p. 68). "Yet insofar as the development of character is a matter of 
one's personal history, considerations about character fall by the wayside when dilemmas 
ignore personal history" (Hinman, p. 68). 

Finally, Hirmian addresses the Kantian and utilitarian idea that emotions can 
cloud one's judgment in making decisions about the correct and moral action. Some 
emotions do cloud one's judgment. Rather than just dismissing them entirely, however, 
he argues in favor of "educating the emotions" - of cultivating an understanding of "the 
illuminating dimension of the emotions" as well as an understanding of how some 
emotions can distort judgment (Hinman, 1985, p. 69). Understanding the role one's 
emotions play in ethical decision-making would therefore be an important component to 
reflexivity in the process. 



In 1966, the American Association for School Administration (AASA) published 
its first "Code of Ethics" for school administrators, claiming that by codifying ethical 
practices, it had demonstrated that "school administration is a profession with ethical 
stature" (AASA, 1966, p. 11). That this would occur in 1966 is a little unexpected, due to 
an apparent lack of interest in ethics as an administrative concern in the years 
surrounding the publication. A review of the literature on the principalship in the mid- 
twentieth century reveals little interest in the subject at the time, no revelatory antecedent 
- no outcry from within or outside of the profession for school administrators to attend to 
ethical concerns. In the early 1960s, school principals were mostly concerned with 
improving their science and mathematics programs (Beck & Murphy, 1993). With the 
advent of Taylor's principles of scientific management in the early part of the century and 
their subsequent application to school administration, literature regarding the 
principalship up to that time was primarily concerned with applying positivist research 
methods to promote business-like efficiency in school organization (Beck & Murphy, 
1993; Callahan, 1962; Maxcy, 2002). Beck and Murphy refer to the period between 
1946 and 1985 as the "behavioral science era" in the principalship literature (Beck & 
Murphy, 1993), and use the descriptor of principal as "businessperson" (1994, p. 20) to 
capture aspects of the role. While ethical and efficient school administration are not 
mutually exclusive interests, the subject was largely ignored in the literature of the day. 


There are a handfUl of notable exceptions, however. Both J. G. Harlow's ( 1 962) 
Purpose-Defining: The Central Function of the School Administrator and Culbertson's 
(1962) New Perspectives: Implications for Program Change include a plea for 
administrator preparation programs to pay attention to ethical issues (cited in Beck & 
Murphy, 1994, p. 24, and Farquhar & Piele, 1972, p. 13). Culbertson was one of the 
leading proponents of moving away from behavioral science in administrator preparation 
programs and as early as 1 962 encouraged such programs to embrace an ethical approach 
to school administration: 

Knowledge about the social sciences cannot provide complete guides for dealing 
with administrative processes. Moral issues face school leaders as they engage in 
these processes, and such issues transcend scientific theories. ... Since 
administrators have the task of selecting means which are effective and moral, 
they frequently face value dilemmas in making decisions. (Culbertson, p. 161) 
Farquhar published an article in 1968 entitled "The Humanities and Educational 
Administration: Rationales and Recommendations," and in 1 972 he reiterated his 
argument in favor of including humanities studies in programs of administrator 

Another, more precise, rationale supporting use of humanities content is as 
follows: since purpose is a chief distinguishing feature among organizations, 
since the determination and realization of organizational purpose requires the 
administrator's skill in making value judgments, and since this skill can be 
developed through exposure to content depicting value conflicts and moral 


dilemmas, the prospective administrator should study the humanities, where such 

content abounds. (Farquhar & Piele, 1972, p. 13) 

These three publications are overshadowed, however, by the volume of material 
at the time written about school leadership as a behavioral science, where knowledge is 
certain, successful practices can be replicated, and personal beliefs and values are 

Ethics in Educational Administration University Programs: Creators of the 
ICnowledge Base 

One way of learning about the significance of ethics in school administration is to 
look at the amount and type of scholarly attention paid to the subject in university 
programs. As school administrators typically gain their credentials through university 
based preparation programs, university educators have been in a key position to 
determine and prioritize the knowledge base required for school administrators. In 1978, 
Silver and Spuck conducted a comprehensive analysis of all topics included in courses of 
administrator preparation. They searched for no less than forty topics either addressed 
specifically in the course title or embedded in broader content. They referred to their 
study as "the most comprehensive survey of preparation programs in the United States in 
the history of the profession," but they neglected to include the study of ethics in their 
survey (Silver & Spuck, 1978, cited in Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 23-24). In the same 
year, Farquhar surveyed 48 universities for information regarding the inclusion of ethics 
in their administration preparation programs. This was the only study to date of this 
nature. Of these 48 universities, 18 responded, and of these 18, only 1 1 claimed to 
include the topic of ethics anywhere in their courses. One respondent seemed to speak 


for universities everywhere when he or she said, "Ethics is an important topic and a 
neglected one; we don't do much, or anything, specifically in this area at our institution" 
(1981, p. 195, cited in Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 25). 

A Shift in Epistemology or Ways of Knowing about School Administration 
By the end of the 1970s, Americans had grown disillusioned with public 
institutions, including schools (Lazerson, 1987, p. 44). There was a growing cynicism 
regarding public institutions as people became more socially aware of systems of 
oppression and injustices that had been perpetuated throughout the country's history, and 
by school officials in particular (Friere, 1970; Kozol, 1967). 

Perhaps in response to this cynicism regarding school leaders, researchers began 
to seriously consider the role of ethics in the field. In 1976, responding to crhicism of the 
University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) for its noted departure from 
behavioral science theory in its latest conference proceedings. Crane and Walker wrote: 
Contrary to our thinking in the 1950s and 1960s we have come to the point of 
view that the whole enterprise of educational administration is so immersed in a 
value saturated matrix that "ought" theory cannot be ignored, and that to 
deliberately separate it from "is" theory is not only unreal, but is seriously to 
misunderstand what educafional administrafion is all about. (1976, p. 3) 
The 1980s saw a shift at the university level regarding attitudes of what 
constituted appropriate scholarly research in education, from positivistic methods to 
interpretive, qualitative methods (Evers & Lakomski, 1991; Halpin, 1960). In 1984, 
William P. Foster asserted the time had come for school administrators to stop basing 
their decision-making on a knowledge base borne of "management science," citing the 


inability of positivistic research to inform the administrator of those aspects of school 
administration that he believed was at the heart of the work of the organization: 

Yet managers and school administrators perennially face the question of what the 
organizational response should be to such issues as equality of opportunity, 
effective teaching, and racial desegregation. These issues reflect the dynamics of 
a pluralistic society, where groups conflict with each other for positions of power, 
yet a science of management avoids confronting such questions with the excuse 
that they lie outside of legitimate science: .... (Foster, 1984, p. 104) 

From Theory to Practice 
Foster set forth an ambitious goal for research which would "reconcile the theory- 
praxis problem" of school administration, an effort "aimed at restructuring the modem 
institution so that it can respond to the needs of all groups in society" (1984, p. 104). He 
pointed to Herbert Simon's (1965) Administrative Behavior as the defmer of school 
administration as a behavioral science, and argued that it marked the end of school 
administration as an ethical endeavor: 

Administrative Behavior found its inspiration in one major source - logical 
positivism. The interpretation of the positivists' tenets led to the conclusion 
expressed in Simon's work that administrators could only be concerned with the 
factual verification of decisions, not with their ethical or moral content. Of 
importance to administration was the maximization of efficiency, not the essential 
rightness nor wrongness of the decisions, (p. 105) 


The following chapter headings are typical of the discrete technical skills 
approach, or behavioral science educational administration literature prevalent in the 
1960s and 1970s: 

Chapter 1 : The Concept of School Organization 

Chapter 3: Organization for Instruction 

Chapter 6: Library Service 

(Otto & Sanders, 1964) 

Chapter 1 : Getting Better Results from Substitutes, Teacher Aides, and 


Chapter 6: How to Run a More Efficient School Office 

Chapter 12: Program Planning - Using Management-by-Objectives in 

School Administration 

(from Handbook of Successful School Administration, 1974) 

Chapter 1 : How to Evaluate Teacher, Principal, and School Climate 
Chapter 3: Planning - How to Set Goals and Reach Them 
Chapter 5: How to Improve School Climate 
(Bean & Clemes, 1978). 

Claiming the failure of positivist research approaches to adequately capture the 
complex social phenomenon of school leadership, Foster called for 

... a reformulation of administrative studies [which] would require the new 
administrator to become conscious about the interrelationships that may occur 


between the social arena and the organization in question, and to recognize 
through a reflective bracketing how the primitive concepts of his science may 
covertly serve these social needs. (1984, p. 109) 

Foster laid out a persuasive argument that it is the school administrator's 
responsibility to redress some of the inequalities inherent in modem schooling, borne of 
oppressive and hegemonic practices, and, in so doing, voiced a need for school leaders to 
replace scientific management with ethical leadership in the center of the role. This 
orientation represented an epistemological shift to a postmodem/poststructuralist 
approach to school leadership, where positivist approaches had up to that point formed 
the basis of study. The end of the twentieth century saw an increase in the perceived 
legitimacy of the more subjective, qualitative forms of research that have potential to 
elucidate the beliefs and values of school administrators. Beck and Murphy claim 
". . .rigorous attacks on the privileged place of science and on the absence of attention to 
values in the profession reached a crescendo in the late 1980s and early 1990s" (Beck & 
Murphy, 1994, p. 28). 

Rather than take for granted the simple derivation of administrative science from 
positivist social science, the postmodern administration theorists draw on new 
philosophy, literary theory, qualitative research methods, and other nontraditional 
intellectual backings. Educational administration, viewed from the metastructural 
perspective, is informed by a wider variety of disciplines than the earlier 
structuralist narrative and will be more aesthetic than strictly scientific. (Maxcy, 
1994, p. 9-10) 


University programs were slow to respond to Foster's call. Norton and Levan's 
1987 review of doctoral students in educational administrator programs found that "of the 
665 education administration courses completed by these 78 students, not a single one 
has a title that would suggest a focus on ethics or values" (cited in Beck & Murphy, 1 994, 
pp. 25-26). Beck and Murphy, in their 1994 review of literature related to ethics in 
administrator preparation programs, concluded ". . .it is difficult - if not impossible - to 
see evidence of meaningful attention to issues of ethics in preparation programs in school 
administration" (p. 26). 

In 1988, however. Strike, Haller and Sohis had published their first edition of The 
Ethics of School Administration. This book was one of the first textbooks written 
specifically for university based programs of educational administration. In it, the 
authors presented a cursory discussion of ethical philosophy, concluding that most 
dilemmas school administrators are likely to face are located within the framework of 
deontology (or "Kantianism") versus utilitarianism. They refer to this dichotomy as "a 
philosophical debate between the idea of respect for person and the idea of benefit 
maximization" (Strike, Haller, and Sohis, 1988, p. ix). This book presents several case 
studies of administrative ethical dilemmas along with relevant moral principles and 
questions raised. After providing details of the case, the authors include an analysis of 
competing principles that make up the dilemma, and then widen the discussion to include 
the philosophical traditions invoked by the situation. The overall intention of the text is 
to help aspiring or practicing school administrators think more clearly about the ethical 
and moral dimension of their role, and become fluent in a language that is used in 
communicating to self and others the ethical rationale for the decision-making. This 


book is now in its third edition, and Beck and Murphy found the original was being 
widely used in places where ethics was taught as a separate course (Beck & Murphy, 
1994, p. 64). 

In 1993, William D. Greenfield published a chapter entitled "Articulating Values 
and Ethics in Administrator Preparation" in which he called for "the formal consideration 
of ethics in administrator preparation curricula" (p. 267). Greenfield argued persuasively 
that the inclusion of ethics in administrator preparation courses is necessary due to the 
"vital moral socialization funcfion" of schools, the compulsory nature of schooling, the 
special responsibility of the school principal toward children and the school community, 
and the potentially oppressive hegemonous power relationships that exist in schools 
(1993, pp. 267 - 269). Greenfield wrote about the importance of the moral dimension of 
educational leadership: 

. . .the administrator's ability to exercise authority is rooted in a belief by the 

teacher in the moral goodness or Tightness of the administrator's point of view. 

With this approach the moral or ethical dimension of concern is neither the 

character nor the specific actions of the administrator (although both of these are 

relevant) but rather the moral basis of the authority relationship between the 

administrator and the teacher. . . . Leadership, as used here, is differentiated from 

power in being characterized by the voluntary acceptance by another of one's 

influence. (1993, p. 275) 

Greenfield envisioned coursework that would 

. . . enable individuals to acquire the knowledge, pracfice the skills, and develop 

attitudes that will enable them to identify and analyze the ethical dimensions of 


the kinds of problems and decisions they can expect to experience in doing school 

administration, and to build personal confidence and the courage needed to make 

difficult normative judgments. ^ (Greenfield, 1993, p. 281). 

Greenfield then described in detail what the coursework should look like, 
including a knowledge base of ethics and morality, Starratt's (1991) theory of ethical 
schools, case studies, problem-solving approaches, and qualitative investigations into 
school pracfices. 

In 1992, Beck and Murphy replicated Farquhar's (1978 - 1981) study, publishing 
their report in 1994. They found evidence of increased interest in ethics in university 
programs of administrator preparation. They believed the reasons for increased interest 
were attributed to (1) a growing belief in the connection between administrative problems 
and ethical solutions - a pragmatic rationale; (2) a response to the call for increased 
scholarship in this area by UCEA policy statement; or "emerging scholarship and reform 
policy" and, for the largest number of respondents, (3) a belief that "educational 
leadership was, at its core, an ethical endeavor" (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 36). 

In the course of their study, as Farquhar had done 15 years earlier. Beck and 
Murphy analyzed the course syllabi provided by 1 7 universities for course content. They 
found that, of the 17 respondents, 7 universities considered ethics a "core part of their 
program" and 8 had a specific course in ethics in school administration as an elective. 
One had recently proposed a required course, and one had specific requirements for the 
domain embedded in other leadership courses (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 57). They found 
themes and patterns in the course syllabi, and categorized them under (1) course 

' It is interesting to note that in its (1996) Standards for School Administrators, the ISLLC frames its 
standards under the headings "Knowledge, skills, and attitudes". 


purposes, (2) course content, and (3) pedagogical approaches (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 


Beck and Murphy fovmd that most courses tried to strike a balance between 
teaching a knowledge base related to the "various schools of philosophical ethics," 
including historical as well as contemporary schools of thought (theory) and a 
reasoning process used to address ethically "troubling" situations likely to be 
encountered in the profession ("problems of practice") (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 59- 
60). In the area of course content, Beck and Murphy found "there is little agreement 
regarding the scope, nature, and guiding perspectives for ethics classes" (p. 64). Strike, 
Haller and Soltis (1988) featured prominently in these classes. Guiding principles 
based on theory, presented with case studies or topics, made up the course content for 
eight university courses (Beck & Murphy, p. 64). Twelve syllabi revealed course 
content that included readings from outside the educational field, primarily from 
philosophy and sociology (p. 65). Beck and Murphy found that pedagogical 
approaches ranged from deductive practices, where students were to "discover 
relevance" by learning the theories first, and then "finding situations that might 
illustrate or be informed by them" to inductive practices, where students were to read 
an assortment of cases and then "uncover ethical theories, principles, and decision- 
making approaches as they applied ..." to a combination of the two ("mixed") (Beck & 
Murphy, p. 67-68). 

Finally, Beck & Murphy found patterns in the course syllabi that reflected a 
growing use of approaches which relied less on formal lecture and more on practical 


application of problem solving, specifically in the use of case study (Beck & Murphy, 
1994, p. 72). They concluded that this reflects: 

... a growing concern with developing skills in moral reasoning; a belief that 
these skills should be practiced in simulated situations; an acceptance of the idea 
that many problems facing leaders do not lend themselves to neat, easily 
discovered solutions; and an interest in equipping prospective leaders to discuss 
moral issues and present thoughtful rationales for positions and decisions, (p. 72) 
They also noted a trend toward the use of reflection on "one's personal and 
professional beliefs and actions" as an important learning tool - a trend, they say, that 
indicates a move away from the assumption of school as a "rational bureaucracy" to be 
studied through organizational behavior, as well as a "growing faith in the notion of 
experiential learning" (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 74). Both trends parallel a growing 
understanding of the way in which adults learn (Mezirow & Associates, 2000, Tennant 
& Pogson, 1995), that is, with personal experience and reflection as a fundamental 
teaching tool. Beck and Murphy also concluded that the increased use of readings 
taken from the humanities reflected a change in thinking about the nature of the work of 
school principal. They noted a departure from a technique-driven set of discrete skill 
practice to a deeper understanding of personal and professional values and a reliance on 
personal ethics as guide, regardless of action or decision. 

Beck and Murphy ended their report with a proposal for a continued dialogue on 
ethics. With the claim that contemporary discourse carried on by current ethicists is 
inaccessible to those outside of the field of study. Beck and Murphy distilled the issues 
and language to a set of concepts and language more accessible to people studying 


school leadership. They described a variety of assumptions within a set of issues that 
are "inextricably linked to ethical commitments," citing current literature that has 
informed scholarly dialogue. These issues are 

1. Actual, perceived, and desired conceptions of purposes of education; 

2. Beliefs about human nature; 

3. Understandings of actual and ideal communities; 

4. Perceptions of value, the nature of commitments to pursue them, and the 
role of ethics in helping persons honor those commitments; 

5. Epistemological assumptions regarding the nature of "truth" and "reality,'' 
legitimate types of knowledge, and strategies for inquiry and discovery; 

6. Attitudes toward moral tensions, ambiguities, uncertainties, and 
paradoxes. (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 82) 

Beck and Murphy called on professors in educational leadership programs to 
move away from the teaching of ethics as a technique-driven system of problem- 
solving principles and guidelines, and toward an open dialogue about what it means to 
"promote moral thinking and acting" (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. 95) in a profession 
characterized by complexity and ambiguity. 

Review of Research in Practice 
Humble Beginnings 
Although researchers have paid some attention to the study of ethics for school 
administrators in university programs (Beck & Murphy, 1994), little attention has been 
paid to the role of ethics in administrative practice. Three years after the AASA 
published its Code of Ethics, Dexheimer published a paper entitled The ethics of chief 


school administrators: A study of accommodation. In this paper he presented his 
findings from a survey in which school superintendents were asked how they would 
respond to a situation with ethical implications. More often than not, Dexheimer found 
"non-ethical replies" (1969, p. 277). In 1984, Ashbough and Kasten found only 7% of 
the articles in Educational Administration Quarterly dating back to 1 965 concerned 
themselves with ethical issues. 

Ethics in School Administration in the Reform Era 

In its 1989 reform agenda, the National Policy Board for Education 
Administration listed "moral and ethical dimensions of schooling" (p. 19) as a curriculum 
strand. In 1990, Kirby, Paradise, and Protti conducted research designed to "describe 
typical ethical dilemmas confronted by educational administrators and to determine 
normative levels of ethical reasoning of practicing school administrators" (1990, p. 2). 
Their research consisted of two phases: In the first phase, 23 school principals were 
asked to describe a "typical ethical dilemma that they had experienced," with follow up 
questions probing alternatives considered, actions taken, input from others, 
consequences, support from supervisors, and "a retrospective evaluation of the choices 
made" (1990, p. 2). They found over half of the respondents described dilemmas 
involving teacher competence. Other dilemmas centered around student behavior, 
teacher/student conflicts, or teacher/parent conflicts. 

Using a rating scale modeled after Kohlberg's stages of moral development (Van 
Hoose and Paradise, 1979), Kirby, Paradise, and Protti categorized principal reported 
behavior according to hierarchical stages of ethical reasoning. A description of these 
stages follows: 


Stage 1 : Individuals operating from a punishment orientation base decisions on 

prevailing rules and standards. 

Stage 2: characterized by an institutional orientation; rules and policies of the 

institution of affiliation dictate judgments. 

Stage 3: ethical reasoning is guided by societal orientation, a concern for the 

general welfare of society. 

Stage 4: an individual orientation prevails; concern for the client takes 

precedence over legal, professional or societal norms. 

Stage 5: decisions are formulated in accordance with an internalized code of 

ethics. (Kirby, et al., 1990, p. 3) 

An analysis of responses indicated that the largest group (31%) operated from 
stage 3 reasoning. "Prevailing rules of the organization explained reasoning ..." (Kirby, 
et al., 1990, p. 3). 19% of the respondents were judged to reason at or above stage 4 
("individual") reasoning, and 6% operated at stage 1 ("punishment") levels. In 
presenting their results, the authors acknowledged the possibility that the respondents 
may be describing their behavior in higher stage terms than their actual behavior 

In phase two, the authors posed dilemmas cited in phase one to 17 administrators, 
offering alternatives gleaned from phase one information, and asked them to describe 
what they would do in this case and what they thought their peers would do. This second 
question was posed because, according to the authors, it "may give a more complete 
account of how typical administrators do respond," although the authors don't offer any 
support as to why this might be so. The authors do point out, however, that the two sets 


of responses will "disclose the degree of comfort with and trust in the moral character of 
individuals in educational administration" (Kirby, Paradise, and Protti, 1990, p. 5). 

Responses were rated for participants and their perceptions of peer behavior along 
the stage continuum. The authors were careful to point out that there was no value 
ascribed to particular behaviors, but that the reasoning behind the choice was the unit of 
analysis. Interestingly, the authors found that when describing his or her own reasoning, 
the average school administrator described Stage 3 reasoning, but when describing 
perceptions of peer behavior, presented a lower basis of reasoning in one out of three 
cases. These principals perceived their typically behaving peer operating from Stage 2 
reasoning. "* 

In 1 99 1 , Millerborg and Hyle reported their findings of a quantitative study in 
which they assessed 306 elementary principals', secondary principals', and district 
superintendents' ability to "make ethical and legal decisions as well as their reported 
behavior decision pattern when ethical and legal options were in conflict" (Millerborg & 
Hyle, 1991, p. 2). Assuming that legal and ethical conflicts occur in the daily life of 

'^ Although the information obtained from this research is helpful in highlighting the typical 
dilemmas faced by school principals during this time period, and the degree of disappointing ethical 
behavior reported for "typical peers" informs us about the professional context in which principals 
believe they operate, conclusions here are limited in several ways. First, in categorizing responses, the 
authors rely on a derivation of a moral reasoning scale (Kohlberg's) that (1) was not intended by its 
author to be used in such a fashion and (2) has undergone much criticism for being mcomplete (and 
therefore flawed) (Lay) and male biased (Gilligan, 1982, and Friedman, 1985). Second, the notion of a 
"typical peer" is so vague as to be meaningless. Arendt (1951, 1994, 2003 ) and Benhabib (1992), 
contemporary ethicists, argue vehemently for the recognition of the "concrete other" and the "plurality of 
perspectives" when making moral determinations. In reality, there exists no "typical peer," and any 
respondent trying to gauge the behavior of such a nonexistent entity has an impossible task. Finally, 
stage three reasoning, appearing of lesser value than stages four and five, is that which incorporates legal 
considerations. Operating outside the law is irresponsible for any school administrator, regardless of 
personal inclination to behave otherwise. School principals are duty bound to act in compliance with 
laws surrounding schooling, and if they disagree with the laws, must work within the democrafic process 
to change them. That school administrators base their ethical decision-making on legal considerations 
should not be considered of lesser "value" than the other two stages of reasoning. 


school leaders, these authors examined the decision-making of respondents for prevailing 
concerns or "choice patterns" (p. 6). Using a questionnaire that called for making a 
choice between an ethical decision or a legal one, the authors found a significant number 
chose the ethical-but-illegal over the legal-but-unethical. They found no significant 
difference in responses with regard to gender, age, school size, district size, highest 
degree held, or ethics preparation, but they did find that secondary principals were more 
likely than the elementary principals to make an ethical but illegal choice (Millerborg & 
Hyle, 1991,p. 14). 

In 1992, Campbell presented qualitative research intended to "introduce a larger 
empirical study that examines conflict and tension between individuals' beliefs about 
right and wrong and collective ethical imperatives within the context of schools" 
(Campbell, p. 1). Although her empirical study had not yet been completed, Campbell 
provided results from an introductory qualitative study designed to inform the reader 
about the moral conflicts faced by teachers and administrators in schools, to "examine the 
problem of the professional teacher and administrator having a moral conscience but 
working within a school with its own, perhaps conflicting, ethical components" 
(Campbell, p. i). The author, citing research from the business world, assumed that 
teachers and administrators, like corporate workers, found themselves in moral conflict 
over issues in which the institution or the collective (in this case the school system) 
demanded one thing while their individual conscience demanded another. Campbell 
pointed out the divergent perspectives inherent in the philosophical study of ethics (i.e. 
subjectivism vs. objectivism, relativism and emotivism vs. absolutism and positivism), 
but stated that, for the purposes of the study, she would begin with the presumption that 


there exists in the minds of the individual and the collective, an objectivist idea of right 
and wrong: 

Ultimately the philosophical problem of right and wrong has implications for 
choice, self-reproach, and nagging doubts that plague individuals as they confront 
issues involving integrity, hypocrisy, conscience, agony, and guilt within the 
realm of moral and ethical behaviour and belief" (Campbell, 1992, p. 16) 
Acknowledging that the "big stories" of ethical and moral compromise on the part 
of school officials tended to receive notoriety, Campbell claimed that she was more 
interested in the "smaller, less sensational incidents in which moral agency is either 
compromised or ignored [on the part of both teachers and principals]" (Campbell, 1992, 
p. 23). She was hopeful that her findings would "increase the level of moral and ethical 
awareness and clarity of educators" (Campbell, 1992, p. 25). Campbell conducted her 
research around eight significant questions regarding the ethical dilemmas encountered 
by teachers and principals, what they did about it, and what they thought about what they 
had done in the context of their own morals and the collective ethic of their schools. Her 
initial findings led her to the conclusion that the later empirical study would best be 
structured conceptually around theories of situational adjustment, social strategies of 
compliance, and role conflict (Grace, 1972; Lacey, 1977, cited in Campbell, 1992, p. 
30). Campbell concluded the main finding of her initial qualitafive research was that 
teachers, although somefimes willing to go against administrative directives on moral 
principle, were disinclined to go against "collegial norms and values" (Campbell, 1992, 
p. 31), underscoring the validity of Shapiro and Stefkovich's theory that an "ethic of the 


profession" exists separately from personal ethical belief systems (discussed later in this 

Standards of practice are a hallmark of recent education reform efforts. In 1996, 
the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) adopted the Standards for 
School Leaders. Six standards of expected performance were described within a 
framework of Knowledge, Disposhions, and Performances. The fifth standard focused 
on ethics. (See Table 1) It reads, "A school administrator is an educational leader who 
promotes the success of all students by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical 
manner" (ISLLC, 1996) 
Table 1 

ISLLC Standard 5: The Ethics Standard 
Knowledge: The administrator has knowledge and understanding of: 

• Various ethical frameworks and perspectives on ethics 

• The purpose of education and the role of leadership in modem society 

• The values of the diverse school community 

• Professional code of ethics 

• The philosophy and history of education 

Disposhions: The administrator believes in, values, and is committed to: 

• The ideal of the common good 

• The principles in the Bill of Rights 

• The right of every student to a free, quality education 

• Bringing ethical principles to the decision-making process 

• Subordinating one's own interest to the good of the school community 


• Accepting the consequences of upholding one's principles and actions 

• Using the influence of one's office constructively and productively in the service 
of all students and their families 

• Development of a caring school community 
Performances: The administrator: 

• Examines personal and professional values 

• Demonstrates a personal and professional code of ethics 

• Demonstrates values, belies, and attitudes that inspire others to higher levels of 

• Serves as a role model 

• Accepts responsibility for school operations 

• Considers the impact of one's administrative practices on others 

• Uses the influence of the office to enhance the educational program rather than for 
personal gain 

• Treats people fairly, equitably, and with dignity and respect 

• Protects the rights and confidentiality of students and staff 

• Demonstrates appreciation for and sensitivity to the diversity in the school 

• Recognizes and respects the legitimate authority of others 

• Examines and considers the prevailing values of the diverse school community 

• Expects that others in the school community will demonstrate integrity and 
exercise ethical behavior 


• Opens the school to public scrutiny 

• Fulfills legal and contractual obligations 

• Applies laws and procedures fairly, wisely, and considerately (ISLLC, 1996). 

In a 1999 study conducted by Maxcy, Tashakkori & Iwanicki, a majority (71%) 
of participating principals in Louisiana ranked the Ethics Standard as having the most 
value for them. Interestingly, this same set of respondents indicated the least amount of 
desire for professional development in this area (Maxcy, 2002). 

In 1998, Grogan and Smith conducted a study of women superintendents' 
approaches to moral dilemmas. The authors interpreted data compiled from interviews 
with 1 1 women superintendents through a "feminist morality" framework, one which 
focuses on the ethic of care promoted by Gilligan (1982), Beck (1994) and Noddings 
(1984). These superintendents reported that, for them, the most vexing dilemmas were 
those that involved staff and students and implementing punitive sanctions. The 
superintendents were acutely aware of the pain they were causing by dismissal of staff 
and expulsion of students, but in the end were compelled to act in what they believed 
were the best interests of the students. In their decision-making, they relied on 
"localized knowledge of the particular people involved in the incidents, on the capacity 
to imagine the other's situation based on prior personal experience and on the ethic of 
care" (Grogan & Smith, 1998), aspects of leadership which have been associated with 
feminist moral theory. 

In 1999, Kevin Roche published the findings of his qualitative research designed 
to "determine how five principals in Catholic school settings actually respond to moral 


and ethical dilemmas within their professional role" (p. 256). Using four hypothetical 
case scenarios as the context for interviewing, the author found that these principals 
used avoidance, suspending their own morality, creative insubordination, and personal 
morality as strategies for coping with ethical dilemmas, in contrast to prior research 
claims (Campbell-Evans, 1988) that school principals tended to employ rational, 
consequentialist decision-making processes. 

Finally, in 2004, Dempster, Carter, Freakley and Parry published resuUs of their 
study that looked at Contextual influences on school leaders in Australia. Australia has 
more recently undergone educational reform that includes, much like recent reform in 
the United States, such aspects as 

...the imposition of strong competition and accountability frameworks on public 
institutions; the articulation of standards and measures of performance; an 
emphasis on corporate forms of governance; a stress on results or outputs, not 
processes; and last but not least, the downsizing and decentralization of the public 
sector. (Dempster, et al.) 

The authors contend that it is this last aspect of reform - which they refer to as 
"site-based management" - which causes the most tension for school principals as they 
try to reconcile the demands associated with being "a semi-autonomous leader" and a 
"line manager accountable to bureaucrats" (Dempster, Carter, Freakley and Parry 
2004, p. 164). Through survey and interview data, the authors set out to discover the 
nature and extent of "micro-contextual and macro-contextual influences" (p. 163) on 
principal ethical decision-making. They asserted that the reform mandates have led to 
three phenomena in the work of the Australian school principal, namely, 


"decentralization, intensification, and complexification" of the role. They label these 
phenomena "market-oriented trends." (Dempster, et al., 2004, p. 165) In looking at the 
most pervasive "micro-contextual influences" on principal decision-making, they found 
that most principals reported their own work experience in education, on the job 
leadership, and parents of children in the school carried the most influence. Following 
closely was the influence of professional colleagues. Professional development was 
reported to have the least influence (Dempster, et al., p. 165). When the data was 
disaggregated, the authors found, not surprisingly, that the principals with the most 
tenure relied on their own work experience to influence their decision-making. 
However, they also found that the longer a principal had been in the role, the less they 
relied on their professional colleagues, and that the influence of professional 
development lessened as their tenure increased. When they looked at the data for 
gender differences, they foimd that women principals were more likely than men to be 
influenced by their colleagues and by professional development. 

These authors also found that with decentralization and site-based management, 
principals no longer took their directives from people "in senior positions" but instead 
looked to others for guidance. Most often, these principals turned to other principals (a 
strong majority), senior department officers, and senior administration team members, 
in that order (Dempster, Carter, Freakley and Parry, 2004, p. 166). One third 
acknowledged their spouse or partner as an influential consultant. The authors 
conclude that, although they had initially believed that site-based management would 
preclude principals from seeking consultation from senior administrators, "those with a 
knowledge of the context in which they are expected to work are considered more 


important sources of support than those without that direct knowledge" (Dempster, et 
al.,p. 167). 

Turning their attention to the macro-contextual influences on principals' decision- 
making, the authors describe the ethical tensions feh by principals as they are forced to 
contend with the "marketing" of their schools. These principals reported pressure 
under reform to generate income for their schools through increasing enrollments and 
getting corporate sponsorships and endorsements. ^'Dealing with the promotion and 
marketing of the school was the most troublesome of the three finance and funding- 
related items for public school principals" (Dempster, Carter, Freakley and Parry, 2004, 
p. 170). Most of the principals reported that prioritizing marketing over sound 
educational practice provided a context of ethical dilemmas for them. 

Dempster, Carter, Freakley and Parry conclude that professional development for 
principals in Australia should address their need for "support networks to assist them in 
their ethical decision-making processes" as well as a "knowledge base about the macro- 
contextual influences likely to impact on local decisions" (2004, p. 172). 

Emerging Theory in the Field of Ethics in School Administration: A Review of 
Prominent Literature 
Robert J. Starratt and "Building an Ethical School " 
In 1994, Robert J. Starratt wrote Building an Ethical School: A Practical 
Response to the Moral Crisis in Schools. Using strong language, Starratt declared an 
urgent need to "marshall the resources" necessary to build ethical schools, to "take stock 
of our present situation in schools" and to "grasp the enormity of the task facing us" 


(1994, p. 3). He wrote, "That task is no less than the task of reversing a massive 
deterioration in the ethical life of our society" (p. 3), and he supported this claim by citing 
"...increases in murder, rape, muggings, child abuse and other domestic violence, drug 
addiction, drug related crime, white-collar crime, corporate violation of tax, 
environmental, and price rigging laws" (p. 4). 

Children, says Starratt, are particularly vulnerable to this decaying ethical 
environment: "Besides the violence, depravity and deception found in public life, 
children and youth encounter appeals to the most self-indulgent, childish, manipulative 
and pornographic fantasies in the entertainment and advertising media" (Starratt, 1994, p. 
4) and he cites statistics that claim an increase in violent and drug related behavior over 
the past twenty years. Starratt fears "as more and more young people grow up with a 
disregard for community standards of behavior, our society is in danger of descending 
into ethical anarchy" (p. 5). 

Starratt claims that schools, rather than helping the situation, add to the problem 
in several ways. First, schools' emphasis on the child as an individual overshadows the 
idea of school as community. Individual achievement is the focus and the mission, to the 
detriment of the collective progress of the classroom or school in a learning community. 
This emphasis on individual growth leads to the second school based problem - increased 
competition among students and families, a phenomenon which Starratt claims is 
promoted by teachers and other school personnel, and is based on what he believes is 
misplaced blame on the schools for a declining U.S. economy. Third, he says an 
emphasis on testing and "superficial mastery of the subject matter" does nothing to help 
students understand the "important questions" of the subject, or find the "larger pattern of 


relationships among the bits of inforaiation" which would help students relate scholarship 
to personal experience and the human condition (p. 20). Starratt likens "achievement" 
with "getting ahead," and claims knowledge is "divorced from value and from a moral 
quest" (p. 22). Fourth, Starratt claims that schools have become separate entities unto 
themselves, their own "private reality," devoid of personal responsibility to the larger 
world. Finally, Starratt believes that children in schools are forced to conform to 
authority without opportunity to think for themselves about the meaning of right and 

Whether or not Starratt' s claims are as dire as he presents them, his writing is 
consistent with other writings of the time that uses the degradation of society as the 
impetus for reform efforts which include a focus on ethical behavior (Lickona, 1989). In 
making recommendations for turning around this problem of moral degradation 
promulgated by schools, Starratt describes his ideas about the qualities of an ethical 
person, bringing up the parallel dimensions of autonomy and cormectedness. He provides 
a "multidimensional ethical framework" for analyzing the "ethical content of situations" 
(Starratt, 1994, p. 45), a framework which consists of three lenses: the ethics of critique, 
justice, and caring. 

Citing postmodern literature describing the oppressive and hegemonous nature of 
schooling (Friere, 1970; Giroux, 1988) Starratt first promotes the ethic of critique "...for 
enabling the school community to move from a kind of naivete about 'the way things are' 
to an awareness that the social and political arena reflect arrangements of power and 
privilege" (Starratt, 1994, p. 47). 


The second lens Starratt presents is the ethic of justice. He divides this area into 
two schools of thought: The first, based on the early teachings of Hobbes and found in 
the contemporary writings of John Rawls, looks at ethical behavior among individuals as 
a social contract, whereby people in a society agree to treat one another fairly in order to 
serve their own advantage. The second school of thought within the ethic of justice, 
Starratt says, emphasizes community over the individual, is based on the works of 
Aristotle and Dewey, and looks at the community, rather than the individual, as the great 
promoter of justice and ethical behavior. 

The third lens Starratt presents is that of the ethic of care. Promoted by Noddings 
(1984), Beck (1994), and Gilligan (1982), this ethic emphasizes valuing personal 
relationships as the agent of ethical behavior, and a genuine concern for the dignity and 
worth of all people as the overall arbiter of ethical behavior and decision making. 

Starratt' s book urges administrators to look at school leadership decision-making 
through all three lenses, fostering practices that exemplify commitment to the ideals of 
each. He makes concrete suggestions for school-based practices that promote the 
perspectives of justice, care, and critique, such as student government, home-school 
associations, and means of implementing discipline, scheduling, curricular and extra- 
curricular programs. His book is prescriptive in detailing steps involving in "building an 
ethical school," and as such, is helpful to aspiring and current principals in assessing their 
own beliefs and practices toward this end. 

Thomas J. Sergiovanni and "Moral Leadership " 

In 1992, Thomas J. Sergiovanni wrote Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of 
School Improvement. This book was a natural extension of Sergiovanni' s prior work in 


exhorting school administrators to put human interests first in the running of schools 
(Sergiovanni, 1990). Although consistent with other works of the early nineties which 
call for school leaders to cultivate their ethical side, Sergiovanni 's book goes a bit further 
in asking school leaders to actually step aside and allow the school community's 
collective "moral authority" to act as the leader of the school. Sergiovanni describes a 
school community's "covenanf as the collective allegiance to the school's purpose, 
values, and goals. According to Sergiovanni, the school community's covenant is the 
best substitute for hierarchical, technical, or psychological (charismatic) leadership, and it 
is the principal's job to nurture that covenant and the people within the community who 
serve h. Building on Peter Vaill's (1984) description of "purposing" as a primary 
leadership function, Sergiovanni claims that it is the school's covenant that "provides the 
added dimension of values and moral authority, to make purposing count" (Sergiovarmi, 
1992, p. 73). 

Joan P. Shapiro and Jacqueline A. Stefkovich and "The Ethic of the Profession " 
In 1984, Van Cleve Morris, in an essay entitled "Plato's 'Philosopher-King': 
Position Impossible," argued against the place of ethical philosophy in the day to day 
work of school administrators: 

The administrator may have a desire to understand, but there isn't time. 
Understanding can wait. By definition, the administrator is situational, oriented to 
a circumstance which calls out for resolution or redefinition. The situation may, 
in the long future, be understood as part of a larger whole, but right now it is a 
situation requiring movement to a new condition, a new situation. The 
administrator's life is focused on this priority of immediacy." (Morris, p. 132) 


It was with an eye to this phenomenon and other unique constraints placed upon 
school administrators that Shapiro and Stefkovich built on Starratt's "multiparadigm 
approach" to ethical decision making for school leaders (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001). 
Finding that most existing ethics books designed for school administrators took a 
predominately "justice" perspective, these authors presented cases involving ethical 
dilemmas through multiple perspectives: the ethic of justice (drawing from the works of 
Kant, Rawls, and Kohlberg, theories of Act Utilitarianism and Act Deontology, and the 
more recent and school oriented Strike, Haler, and Sohis, 1998); the ethic of critique 
(based on the writings of Foucault, Friere, and Giroux); the ethic of care (Beck, 1994; 
Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Noddings, 1984); and their own ethic of 
the profession.^ Partly in response to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium 
(ISLLC, 1996) revised competencies for school administrators which called for an 
understanding of ethical issues, and partly because they felt the predominant view of the 
justice paradigm (with a focus on codes, rules, and principles) was insufficient given the 
special context of educational decision-making, Shapiro and Stefkovich presented the 
ethic of the profession as a response to the "day to day personal and professional 
dilemmas educational leaders face" (2001, p. 20). This ethic takes into account the 
individual's perceptions of right and wrong, the community's standards, "including both 
the professional community and the community in which the leader works; formal codes 
of ethics established by professional associations; and written standards of the profession 
(ISLLC, 1996)" (p. 22), with the ultimate goal to "place students at the center of the 
ethical decision-making process" (p. 23). 

^ Shapiro and Stefkovich do not sufficiently credit Starratt with this original conceptual framework, 
although they do provide a quote from Starratt on the benefits of its application (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 
2001, p. 18). 


Thus, taking all these factors into consideration, Shapiro and Stefkovich's ethic of 
the profession would have administrators ask questions within the justice, critique, and 
care paradigms, but would have them go beyond these questions to ask what the 
profession would expect and what is in the best interests of the students taking into 
account the fact that they may represent highly diverse populations (Shapiro & 
Steflkovich, 2001, p. 25). Their book presents several case studies involving dilemmas 
faced by school leaders, with accompanying questions designed to promote reflective 
thinking amongst graduate level students studying school administration. 

Ethical Leadership in the Twenty-first Century 
In the early 1990s, researchers and writers in the field of school administration did 
heed Foster's and Greenfield's calls for a "renewed discourse" (Slater, 1991) in 
administration scholarship. That discourse now takes place within the context of 
education reform. One of the central goals of education reform has been to equalize 
learning opportunities and outcomes for all groups of children, including and especially 
those groups previously marginalized (Edmunds, 1979, Purkey & Smith, 1983). With 
federal education reform mandates of the early twenty-first century (No Child Left 
Behind Act of 2001, US Dept. of Educafion), the work of schools is evaluated on 
evidence of achievement - not simply evidence of good processes and intentions, and 
students' test scores are disaggregated to illuminate the performance of subgroups of 
children according to race, income level, and presence or absence of disability. This 
demand for universal achievement has brought several ethical aspects of school 


leadership, including distribution of resources and equality of educational opportunity 
sharply into focus. 

"As social and cultural diversity increases, as equity becomes a greater social 
priority, and as demands for fiscal restraint persist, the circumstances of decision making 
in educational organizations become more complex and challenging" (Begley, 1999, p. 
3). In this era of accountability, codified in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the 
challenges of school administrators take on a more "high stakes" nature than ever before. 
Outcomes of schooling indicated by students' test scores determine whether or not 
schools will be able to continue operating under their own jurisdiction or be subject to 
punitive sanctions that limit self control. The consequences of underperformance, or not 
making Adequate Yearly Progress ("AYP"), include the mandate to offer support 
services (at the system's expense), allowing for school choice, (in spite of logistical 
constraints), and "school restructuring," including the firing of school administrators. 
School performance is publicized by the media, influencing a community's perception of 
the relative success or failure of school efforts. The need for school principals to make 
decisions that will lead to student achievement has never been greater. Resolution of 
ethical dilemmas in school leadership takes place in a context of anxious public scrutiny. 
To say that principals' livelihoods depend on reaching continually rising benchmarks is 
not an overstatement - even as the dilemmas of school leadership grow increasingly 

Kenneth Leithwood offers several changing conditions of schooling that add to 
the complexity of the work of the school and, hence, the decision-making responsibilities 
of the school principal. They are (1) the "end of the borrow now, pay later" fiscal 


mentality of school finance leaders, which has resulted in cutting back or combining 
programs in the name of efficiency; (2) the "end of the belief that all nontraditional 
family structures are rare enough to be safely ignored by schools," resulting in the 
school's increasing need to take on roles and functions previously thought to belong to 
parents; (3) the "end of society's willingness to assign major decision-making authority 
to professional expertise," resulting in increased parent involvement in decision-making; 
(4) the "end of the public school's technical naivete," resulting in increasing complexity 
of the informational infrastructure of the school; (5) the changing "contemporary 
understanding of how learning occurs" resulting in the cry for constructivist instructional 
practices; and (6) "widespread recognition of the need for lifelong learning," requiring 
that schools attend to the learning needs of students both younger and older than those 
previously served (Leithwood, 1999, pp 30-35). Maxcy cites anxiety around test scores 
as well as growing incidences of violence and discipline problems as further evidence of 
the current challenges to ethical school leadership (2002, p. 13). Maxcy also presents 
increasing cultural diversity in schools as a context for ambiguity in decision-making: 
What began as a monolithic educational space in the early nineteenth century, 
dominated by one culture and one set of values, has moved through phases of 
cultural pluralism, the mehing pot, cultural diversity, cultural identity, and now 
cultural isolation. Schools are more segregated than ever before, and fewer 
shared values have a common following. A cultural noise resonates against the 
rhetoric of national tests, school report cards, and the struggle toward 
effectiveness. (Maxcy, 2002, p. 4) 


As recently as 1 999 Kenneth Leithwood questioned the "practical utility" of 
studying ethical practices of school administrators, citing the presumption that most 
school leaders are prone to behave ethically based on their professional inclinations, the 
public scrutiny of school leaders' actions, and the "unclear, difficuh to assess" goals of 
the school organization which promote consistency with rules and traditional practices as 
reasons why it is perhaps a topic not worthy of rigorous study (Leithwood, in Begley, p. 
26). In 2007, however, six years into the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the goals are 
no longer difficult to assess. Either a school makes its AYP or it doesn't. School leaders 
are still the same people, with the same ethical intentions, and their decisions still fall 
under public scrutiny, but the success or failure to achieve goals is now clear. It makes 
one wonder if school principals are now approaching their decision-making differently 
than they have in the past. It is easy to see how decisions involving teacher performance, 
distribution of resources, instructional and curricular priorities, etc., might take on a more 
consequentialist or outcomes-based character, where adherence to principles or a non- 
consequentialist stance may have characterized principal decision-making in an earlier 

In the afterword of his book of essays entitled Postmodern School Leadership: 
Meeting the Crisis in Educational Administration (1994), Spencer Maxcy writes 

Efforts are afoot to redefine educational administration from a moral and ethical 

perspecfive. Certainly T. Greenfield, Bates, and others led the way in this regard. 

In the wings wait those who would have leadership in schools cast as a bit player. 

Moral/ethical features of community life are pervasive, but they are also messy. 

We lack the same kind of rigorous methods for dealing with such values. 


Nonetheless, commitment to the discourse/practice of value leadership has a 

Pygmalian effect: If we believe such values to be central, they can become so. 

Where we seek to marginalize morals and ethics, they will end up beyond our 

grasp. (1994, p. 158) 

In my research related to the ethical and moral dimension of educational 
leadership, I hope to add my voice to others who have so passionately argued in favor of 
placing ethical decision making squarely in the center - not in the margins - of the role of 
the school principal. 


Purpose of the Study 
The purpose of this study is to explore and describe individual principals' 
experiences of ethical decision-making in a complex era. I presume that most school 
principals have a vivid memory of an experience when they were forced to make a 
"tough decision" - one that challenged them to take a position in spite of competing and 
deeply felt moral values. I am interested to know how they encountered this dilemma, 
what they thought and how they feh about it, what values they brought to bear, what 
advice they sought and from whom, how they resolved the dilemma, and what effect the 
experience had on their own leadership. A fuller understanding of these "watershed 
moments" will contribute to the current knowledge base of the role of the school 
principal, with implications for principal preparation programs, professional development 


of current and aspiring school principals and teachers, and policy making that can support 
sustainable leadership condhions. Robert J. Starratt, author of Building an Ethical School 
(1994) and the more recent Ethical Leadership (2004), writes that "many ethical 
problems have no easy solution" and urges that "research be undertaken to gain a better 
understanding of the personal struggles of those who must make difficult moral choices" 
(Starratt, 1994, cited in Beck & Murphy, 1994, p. ix) It is with a desire to contribute to 
the current understanding of the ethical dimension of school leadership that I undertake 
this research. 

The Study 

In this study I explored how selected elementary school principals experience the 
phenomenon of decision-making when faced with an ethical dilemma and described the 
essential meanings that they brought to the experience upon reflection. I structured the 
study around the framework of phenomenological inquiry because I was interested in 
learning about the lived experiences of the selected participants as they were engaged in a 
single phenomenon - decision-making when faced with an ethical dilemma in their 
principalship. I selected eleven participants to interview based on the following criteria: 
participants were elementary school principals who 

• possessed a vivid memory of being faced with an ethical dilemma that required 
conscientious decision-making; 

• were able and willing to reflect on their experience and talk about it candidly; 
Following Moustakas' methods for phenomenological research, I engaged in the 

following procedural steps: 

1 . Formulate an overall question that has "both social meaning and personal 
significance" (Moustakas, 1994, p. 104). Identify several research questions that 
form the framework of the overall inquiry. 

2. Describe the philosophical perspectives behind phenomenological research, that 
is, "the concept of studying how people experience a phenomenon" (Creswell, 
1998, p. 54). This included a description of my attempts toward the Epoche, or 
bracketing my own preconceptions about the topic as a necessary first step toward 
understanding how they might influence my inquiry. This step also included a 
discussion of intentionality, noema, and noesis that form the underlying 
conceptual framework of phenomenological study (Husserl). 

3. Formulate interview questions that will lead the participants to provide a textured 
description of the event and uncover the essential meanings therein; 

4. Collect data through semi-structured interviews, using the research questions as a 
basis for the dialogue; audio-tape and transcribe interviews. 

5. Analyze the data through a process that includes horizontalization (or listing and 
preliminary grouping of every expression relevant to the experience), reduction 
and elimination of overlapping, repetitive, and vague expressions, in order to 
determine "invariant constituents of the experience," clustering and thematizing 
the invariant constituents, and validation of the invariant constituents and themes 
by application to the participants' entire transcript; 

6. Construct for each "co-researcher" (Moustakas' term for participant) an 
Individual Textural Description of the experience (that is, a description of the 

7. Construct for each co-researcher an Individual Structural Description of the 
experience (that is, a description of "the underlying dynamics of the experience", 
beyond what is seen and accounted for on the surface)^ 

8. Construct for each co-researcher a Textural- Structural Description of the 
meanings and essences of the experience (Moustakas, 1994, pp. 120-121). 

The final outcome of the research emerged as a "composite description of the meanings 
and essences of the experience, representing the group [selected elementary school 
principals] as a whole (Moustakas, p. 121). 

Guiding Research Questions 

In this study I explored how selected elementary school principals experienced 
the phenomenon of decision-making when faced with an ethical dilemma. Ethical 
dilemma, in this case, is the term used to describe an event which calls for a decision to 
be made when moral values or ethical principles are in conflict. The structure of the 
overall phenomenon is framed by the following guiding research questions: 

1 . What is the nature and description of the ethical dilemma? 

2. How did the participants learn of the need for decision-making? (Interview 

* After attempting to separate the textura! from the structural description of two co-researchers' stories, I 
began to combine the two descriptions in the initial writing with the third through the tenth. Separating the 
event from the underlying dynamics, feelings, and context proved to me to be too unnatural a way to relate 
an experience. 

^ Although these research questions are reminiscent of those used in Protti's study (described in review of 
literature), those researchers asked their participants to describe a "typical ethical dilemma" encountered in 
their work. I am asking participants to identify an atypical event - a moral and ethical dilemma that had 
them sfruggling for the answer and that somehow affected their notions of leadership. 


3. What were the alternatives explored, and what were their likely outcomes? 
(Interview question) 

4. Who were the stakeholders involved, i.e. who stood to gain or lose in the 
outcome? (Interview question) 

5. What moral values emerged as being influential in the decision-making process? 

6. What ethical principles emerged as being important to the decision-making 

7. How did the participants acquire these moral values and ethical principles? 

8. Did the participant seek advice? If so, from whom, and why? (Interview 

9. What did the participant decide to do in order to resolve the dilemma? (Interview 

10. What were the consequences of the decision? (Intended and unintended) 
(Interview question) 

1 1 . In retrospect, is the participant satisfied with his or her decision? If so, why? And 
if not, why not? (Interview question) 

12. How has the event affected the participants' view of their own leadership? 

Discussion of the research questions: 

1 . What is the nature and description of the ethical dilemma? 

Moustakas writes, "The aim [of phenomenological research] is to determine what 
an experience means for the persons who have had the experience and are able to provide 


a comprehensive description of it" (1994, p. 13). This question was designed to provide a 
complete, textured portrayal of the ethical dilemma as the focus of study. 

2. How did the participants learn of the need for decision-making? 

If the first question was designed to elicit a detailed description of the event, the 
second question was designed to provide insight into what precipitated the event, the 
"...feelings, sense experiences, and thoughts, the structures that underlie textures and are 
intimately bound within them" (Moustakas, 1994, p. 78). How a participant comes to 
realize that he or she is in fact facing a moral struggle reveals much about the person's 
values and ethical principles. Lashway writes: 

To be a school leader is to live with ethical dilemmas. Not just a few times a 
year, not just weekly, but every day. The dilemmas come in various forms. 
Sometimes they announce themselves like flashing neon signs; sometimes they 
try to slip past disguised as mere technical problems; and sometimes they just 
lurk in the background, throbbing like a toothache that won't quite go away. 
(1996, p. 103) 
Whether overtly or covertly, at some point the competing values rear their heads and 
make themselves known, and, in so doing, announce their prominent status within the 
moral and ethical identity of the participants. 

3. What were the alternatives explored, and what were their likely outcomes? 
This question expanded the boundaries of the event, by going beyond what 

happened to what might have happened, but still remaining within the event itself as it 
was experienced by the participant. Alternatives considered and then rejected reveal 
much about the participants' prioritizing of competing values and principles. If an 


alternative was considered, what was initially attractive about it? What value or principle 
might have been promoted? If it was then rejected, why so? This question encouraged 
participants to make fine distinctions between desirable alternatives, ultimately 
illuminating that which was more important for them. 

4. Who were the stakeholders involved, i.e. who stood to gain or lose in the 

Sensitivity to the impact one's decision has on others is often at the root of an 
ethical dilemma, especially for women (Gilligan, 1982; Kirby, Paradise & Protti, 1990). 
Asking the participants to describe the people involved and the interpersonal dynamics of 
the shuation will evoke deeper memories of the feelings they had when struggling to 
decide what to do. 

5. What moral values emerged as being influential in the decision-making process? 
This question added to my understanding of the participant's moral identity and 

the information gleaned was essential to my understanding of how the participant 
experienced the dilemma. The answers to this question emerged directly from the 
questioning or indirectly as the participants' stories about their motivations were formed. 
John Nash, in "Real World" Ethics writes that people use a "Second Language" when 
talking about their values (2002, p. 58). He calls it a "language of thick description," one 
which reveals information about a person's moral character, and which can be better 
understood through personal descriptions of beliefs, feelings and intuitions. People use 
the Second Language, Nash says, when they discern whether their actions or decisions 
are consistent with their idealized, virtuous self, or whether they are operating "out of 
character" (Nash, pp. 59 - 63). 


6. What ethical principles emerged as being important to the decision-making 

When people talk about ethical principles, they draw from a vast philosophical 
tradition that encompasses several theories (deontology versus utilitarianianism, 
consequentialist versus non-consequentialist, moral objectivism versus moral relativism), 
dimensions ["justice versus mercy," "short term versus long term," "self versus 
community," and "truth versus loyalty" (Kidder, 1995)] and paradigms ["ethic of care," 
"ethic of critique," "ethic of justice" and "ethic of the profession" (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 
2001)]. These theories, dimensions, and paradigms are represented in what John Nash 
calls a "Third Language" of moral principle (2002, p. 106). He calls this a "thin" 
language, in that it lifts principles and rules up and out of the personalized, textured 
context of the individual experience and seeks to apply them universally and 
theoretically. In talking about their decision-making process when faced with an ethical 
dilemma, participants revealed which of these theories, dimensions, and paradigms 
provided the most compelling ethical principles that guided them. 

7. How did the participants acquire these moral values and ethical principles? 

This question asked participants to reflect on the development of their own ethical 
identity. Of particular interest was to be the participants' reflections of childhood 
experiences, influential people and communities that have helped them grow into the 
ethical beings they are today. Participants spoke in what John Nash calls the "First 
Language" of background beliefs (2002, p. 35). 

8. Did the participant seek advice? If so, from whom, and why? 


Reasons for the selection of an advisor had potential to reveal much about the 
participants' thought process at the time of decision-making. Perhaps they were looking 
for someone to validate their own intuition, a force which is sometimes overlooked in 
ethical decision-making, in which case they might seek out someone they perceive to be a 
"like-minded" person. Perhaps they felt they were lacking in some area of insight and 
wished to further their own understanding of the situation, in which case they might have 
sought out someone they perceived to be knowledgeable about the conditions of the case. 
Perhaps there was someone in their lives whom they perceived to possess greater virtue 
or moral integrity, reminiscent of Aristotle's virtues ethics, in which case their selection 
of advisor revealed valued character traits. Perhaps they didn't seek advice at all, 
preferring instead to apply their own moral principles to the case, a stance reminiscent of 
Kantian philosophy and supportive of the "autonomous" dimension of ethical 

9. What did the participant decide to do in order to resolve the dilemma? 

This question added to the textural description of the event and pointed to the 
most compelling ethical principals and moral values at the time of the decision-making. 

10. What were the consequences of the decision? (Intended and unintended) 

This question completed the textural description of the event and provided the basis for 
participant reflection on the decision-making. 

1 1 . In retrospect, is the participant satisfied with his or her decision? If so, why? 
And if not, why not? 

This question revealed a deeper level of understanding about the ethical 
dimension of the participants' leadership. A retrospective viewpoint set aside the 


ambiguity of the dilemma and clarified the participants' moral "bottom line." 
Satisfaction connoted consistency with the participants' idealized moral self; 
dissatisfaction connoted inconsistency. There were no more "what if s." There was now 
only "what was" - a much easier phenomenon to describe in evaluative terms. 
12. How has the event affected the participants' view of their own leadership? 
This question was designed to elicit the meaning of the experience for the 
participants. That he or she had a vivid memory of the phenomenon indicated that it was 
in some way meaningful for them, that is, it was important enough to have a lasting effect 
on their leadership. Whether or not there were commonalities or themes in the essential 
meanings the participants brought to their experiences was seen in analysis, but the 
meanings themselves were worthwhile elucidations of the phenomenon. It was here that 
the research had potential to inform the current knowledge base available to those who 
are curious about the role of the school principal. 

Creswell states, "In a phenomenological study, the participants . . . must be 
individuals who have experienced the phenomenon being explored and can articulate 
their conscious experiences" (1998, p. 1 1 1). In attempting to locate co-researchers, I 
began with several considerations. I looked for current elementary school principals who 
would be willing to be interviewed for at least one contiguous hour and be audio-taped. I 
tried to find principals representing both genders, with a variety of lengths of tenure and 
socio-economic demographics of school communities. I began with an arbitrary process 
which included sending out letters of invitation (See Appendix A) with a follow up 
telephone call. This letter introduced me and the nature and purpose of my research. It 

also described the freedom the co-researchers would have in the process to limit certain 
types of information and to cease participation at will. I sent with the letter the separate 
"permission form" (See Appendix B) to allow the potential co-researcher to understand 
the nature of his or her commitment. Through e-mails and telephone conversations 
mutual times and locations were determined for the interviews. Initially, names and 
schools were chosen randomly from a general listing of schools in Massachusetts. I 
obtained participation from four co-researchers using this method. In the case of three, I 
followed up on referrals made through my own colleagues. Finally, I enlisted the aid of 
my co-researchers at the end of several interviews to suggest colleagues of theirs that 
they believed might be willing to talk to me. (A limited "snowball sampling.") (Weiss, 
1994, p. 25). In this way, I obtained the participation of four co-researchers. In the case 
of the latter two methods involving an "intermediary," (Glesne, 1999, p. 39) participation 
was easily obtained. In one case, I utilized a story emailed to me after a telephone 
conversation with an acquaintance. After each interview, I sent a letter to the co- 
researcher thanking them for their participation and their insights. Throughout this 
process, I attempted to ensure adherence to ethical standards set forth by Moustakas, 
which meant that I "established clear agreements with the research participants, 
recognized the necessity of confidentiality and informed consent, and developed 
procedures for insuring full disclose of the nature, purpose, and requirements of the 
research project" (1994, p. 99). 

Although I had set out with the purpose of finding a sampling that would 
represent a variety of principal identities and contexts, toward the end my participants, 
who had been referred to me by other participants, were mostly White women between 


fifty and sixty years of age who had been principals in fairly wealthy districts. This 
"convenience" (Weiss, 1994, p.24) or "opportunity" (Delamont, 1992, p. 70) sampling 
conceivably limited the generalizability of my findings, especially in the 
underrepresentation of principals of color and in school districts with lower socio- 
economic demographics. 

Gaining the trust of co-researchers is important for any ethnographic study, but in 
this case it was particularly important. The fact that I am a school principal in 
Massachusetts may have worked for me or against me in this regard. In my initial 
contact with co-researchers, I was careful to emphasize through my introductory 
conversation my role as student, not fellow principal. The reason for this was that I 
wanted the co-researchers to feel comfortable talking about their private decision-making 
process - for better or for worse - without wondering if I was connected to their school in 
some way. Matters involving personnel especially must be kept fiercely guarded. I 
found in all cases but one, however, that the co-researchers were comfortably candid in 
their discourse, and wished to engage me in conversation about my own role as principal 
once the tape recorder was turned off. In one case, I decided to not use the data obtained, 
due to the hesitancy in disclosure revealed by the co-researcher as this person asked that I 
not identify gender, race, age, description of location, or length of tenure! 

Creswell suggests that in phenomenological research, the number of interviewees 
be "up to 10 people" (1998, p. 112). For me, the question of how many co-researchers to 
include was answered somewhere around the eleventh interview, where I found myself 
hearing a slightly different version of essentially the same story. Having committed to 
this interview, I followed through on that one as well, and include it in this study. 


However, I must disclose that by that time, certain themes and patterns had already 
emerged in my conscience, and I'm sure I was partially biased in paying close attention 
to those aspects of her story that seemed to confirm what I was already starting to 
believe. In answer to the question, when do you know when to stop gathering data, 
Weiss writes. 

The best answer is that you stop when you encounter diminishing returns, when 
the information you obtain is redundant or peripheral, when what you do learn 
that is new adds too little to what you already know to justify the time and cost of 
the interviewing. (Weiss, 1994, p. 21) 

Piantanida encourages the researcher to consider herself the "instrument of 
inquiry" (1999, p. 139). The usefulness of this "instrumenf then is dependent on the 
researcher's capacity for listening and understanding the phenomenon as it is presented 
by each co-researcher. Obstacles that can get in the way of understanding another's story 
abound, but perhaps the most pernicious involve the researcher's preconceived notions 
about the phenomena or the people describing it. Delamont recommends "think[ing] 
through what your preconceptions are before you begin your data collection" (1992, p. 
76). Husserl called this process the "Epoche" and Moustakas considers it a necessary 
first step in phenomenological research (Moustakas, 1994, p. 85, citing Husserl, 1931, p. 

In my earliest attempts to engage in this process, I thought about my relationship 
with this group of people called "elementary school principals." The truth is, as a group I 
like them very much. My experiences with principals at conferences, luncheons, etc., 


have always been congenial and friendly - characterized by a kind of sympathy one 
might find among people similarly situated "in the trenches." There has been much 
written about the isolation of teachers in schools (Johnson, 1991), but I believe no one is 
more isolated in schools than principals. Due to ethics surrounding confidenfiality, 
principals have no "confidants" - no one to confide in about pressing problems and 
feelings of discomfit. Because I experience first-hand those same problems and feelings, 
I am prone to empathize with a school principal's situation, even without knowing many 
of the particulars. In my research, this may have led me to accept without probing a 
principal's assessment of a situation. It had the potential to lead me to a "cheerleader" 
mentality, where I would silently root for the principal to be "right." However, the nature 
of my research was not to evaluate the Tightness or wrongness of a principal's decision - 
it was only to understand its nature. Therefore, this willingness to accept a situation as 
presented may have even helped me to attend to the principal's story from their own 
perspective. I did find particularly interesting those dilemmas that I have encountered 
myself, for example those involving teacher dismissal and student discipline. If the 
principal acted as I thought I would have, I attended to that without much questioning. 
(With the stories involving teacher dismissal, it is interesting to note now that I never 
really probed to find out particulars of the underperformance, accepting at face value the 
principals' assessment of the situation.) If a principal acted in a different manner than I 
would have, I did probe further to try to understand the perspective different from mine. 
In any case, I was cognizant of the fact that my own decision-making was not the real 
issue under study - it simply presented a backdrop against which I tried to understand the 
phenomena as experienced by the co-researcher. I was hopeful that the affinity I felt I 


shared with other school principals would be an asset in the establishment of rapport and 
trust. In retrospect, I believe that it was. 

As a principal who is a woman, I must admit that I am sensitive to the particular 
difficulties experienced by other women principals. I knew before reading Shakeshaft's 
Women in Educational Administration (1989) that women have more to prove - to 
themselves as well as others - in establishing public and perhaps private trust in their 
own competence in this role. Men tend to become principal's earlier in their careers than 
women (Shakeshaft, 1989) after less soul-searching than women who remain in the 
classroom much longer before venturing out. For this reason, I thought I might be more 
sympathetic to the women principals I would interview, and perhaps wonder while 
interviewing the men how much easier it might have been (and might still be) to acquire 
and sustain their roles as leaders. In the end, I believe that I was equally sympathetic to 
the dilemmas faced by the men as well as the women. 

As a White woman, I was cognizant of the fact that the principals in the 
"wealthy" towns are all White too. They were primarily referrals from others ("the 
snow-balled" sample) and this represented a kind of hegemony that I believe pervades 
school administration, certainly in the wealthy suburbs. Only one of my co-researchers 
was a man of color. 

Finally, this research was predicated on one important assumption - that all, if not 
most, elementary school principals have at least at one time in their professional lives 
been presented with a difficult decision to make. I also presumed that when fully 
illuminated (as was my responsibility) these decisions would contain within them an 
ethical component. It was not unusual for my co-researchers to hesitate to use the term 


"ethical dilemma" when selecting an experience to relate. They remembered it being a 
difficult time, but some were wary of the label "ethical." For this reason, in my pre- 
interview conversation, I asked the prospective co-researchers to suspend their notions of 
"ethical dilemmas" and simply tell me about a difficult or "tough" decision they had to 
make. This made it easier for the principals to tell me the story they wished to tell, 
without fear that it "wasn't what [I] was looking for." In each case, there was in fact an 
ethical dimension to the difficulty - but I considered it my job to find it and illuminate it. 
Data Collection 
According to Moustakas, the phenomenological interview "involves an informal, 
interactive process and utilizes open-ended comments and questions" (1994, p. 1 14). In 
my research, data was collected via interviews of approximately one hour using a semi- 
structured format over a period of six months (April, 2006 to September 2006). Audio- 
tapes were transcribed by a paid acquaintance. I designed the interview questions to 
elicit information pertinent to the research questions. In a few cases, but not most, 
interview questions were the same as the research questions. Although questions were 
developed in advance, Moustakas allows for the possibility that these prepared questions 
may be "varied, altered, or not used at all" depending on how the co-researchers' stories 
unfold (Moustakas, 1994, p. 1 14). In most cases, information relevant to the interview 
questions emerged naturally from the co-researchers' recollection of the phenomenon 
under discussion. Once I asked these principals to tell me about a time in their 
principalship when they faced a difficult decision, my primary role was as listener and 


With that in mind, the following interview questions, consistent in content with my 
guiding research questions, formed the structure of the semi-structured interview: 

1 . Please tell me a little about yourself- background, growing up, how you became 
a principal, . . . 

2. Take a few moments to recall a time in your principalship when you were forced 
to make a very difficult decision. Please take me through the experience. 

3. How did you learn about the situation? Did the need for making a decision come 
to you gradually over time, or did you realize it quickly? 

4. What alternatives did you have? Which ones did you think about? What would 
have been their likely outcomes? 

5. Who were the people involved? Who stood to gain or lose by your decision? 

6. Did you have thoughts about what should be done? From a moral or ethical 
sense? Do you remember what feelings you had at the time? 

7. How did you acquire this sense of what should be done? 

8. Did you ask anyone for advice? Who? Why this person? 

9. How did the situation end? What did you decide to do? 

10. What happened as a result? 

1 1 . In the end, were you satisfied with the result? Why or why not? 

12. Has this event affected you in any way in terms of how you do your job? Did 
anything change for you afterwards? 


Ethical Dilemma 

Definitions and criteria for the term "ethical dilemma" abound in the literature (Nash, 
2002, p. 63). Harding outlines four characteristics of ethical dilemmas that I believe 
combine to form the most useful definition for me. 

1 . A dilemma is a valid argument which concludes with a choice between two equal 

2. A dilemma assumes that there is no way to avoid choosing one of the alternatives. 

3. There is no way, given the present knowledge base, to know the truth of the 
premises a priori. 

4. To be a dilemma, an argument must demand resolution in the course of daily life. 
(Harding, 1985, pp. 45 - 47) 

For Harding, the resolution of the dilemma is of secondary importance to "the 
process of thought through which individuals come to interpret events as dilemmas" 
(Harding, 1985, p. 43). My participants knew from the outset of our interviews that I was 
looking for ethical dilemmas in their experiences as elementary school principals. 
However, they were not always comfortable with the term, asking hesitantly if their 
proposed story was "what [I] was looking for." When I asked them to suspend their 
notions of "ethical dilemma" and tell me a story of a "difficuh decision," they were easily 
able to relate a story that did in fact have an ethical dimension to it. In all cases, as their 
stories unfolded, it became clear to me that there were the two processes at work which 
Harding describes as being central to the recognition of a dilemma: (1) the development 
of intention and (2) the interpretation of contradiction (Harding, 1985, p. 47). I believe 


that these principals came to recognize the situation they were in through these processes, 
even though they might not have consciously articulated it that way at the time. 

For purposes of discussion here, I accept Harding's assertion that "intention" is 
the "why of human behavior" (Harding, 1985, p. 48). She provides a framework for 
understanding the components of intention. "The first component in the gradual 
development of intention involves awareness of a goal, in this case the awareness that 
there is a situation demanding a choice between conflicting outcomes" (Harding, 1985, 
p. 49). Harding bases this assertion in child development theory, specifically that of 
Piaget (1952, 1965, 1980), who theorized that when children see "disruptions" from 
"previously perceived regularities" they attend to the stimuli that surprises them, or that 
which contradicts their expectations (Harding, pp. 50 - 53). This is a necessary first step 
for people who are beginning to understand that achieving regularity demands some sort 
of action. The second component of intention is "the development of a plan for achieving 
a goal" (Harding, 1985, p. 49). Inifially, the goal for the plan is to promote regularity, or 
alleviate the tension between "what is" and "what ought to be." However, in the 
formulation of a plan, the person comes to realize that there are more than one possible 
outcomes for any course of action. Therefore, the third component of developing 
intention comes into being, that is, "an attitude of necessity leading to the formation of 
alternate plans" (Harding, 1985, p. 51). Finally, the fourth component of developing 
intention is that of "persistence" (Harding, 1985, p. 51). Persistence can exist on all 
levels of the developmental continuum. An infant may persist in promofing regularity 
through rigid, ineffective acfions. At the higher end of the scale are those who recognize 


that "all events" pose "potential dilemmas" and therefore they must examine "the 
truthfulness of premises and the alterability of outcomes" (Harding, 1985, p. 52). 
Intentionality, Noema, and Noesis 

Harding's view of "intention" shares similiarities with Moustakas' version. 
According to Moustakas, "intentionality refers to consciousness, to the internal 
experience of being conscious of something" (1994, p. 28). Central to Moustakas' view 
is the notion of "directedness." Intention implies the mind is directed toward some object 
or idea, whether imaginary or real. Harding's four components of intention are consistent 
with a person's growing ability to direct one's attention to an event, to recognize it as 
something worthy of attention. Moustakas, however, finds two components of 
intentionality. He uses Husserl's (1931) concepts of "noema" and "noesis" to describe 

The neoma is not the real object but the phenomenon, not the tree but the 
appearance of the tree. The object that appears in perception varies in terms of 
when it is perceived, from what angle, with what background of experience, with 
what orientation of wishing, willing, or judging, always from the vantage point of 
a perceiving individual. (Gurwitsch, 1967, p. 128, cited in Moustakas, 1994, p. 

The idea of the noema is important to the phenomenology of my participants' 
stories in that they share with me their growing realization that there was a problem 
surfacing in their school that needed attending to. They directed their attention to it and, 
in so doing, revealed their intention. The noema is the object, action, person, or idea that 
drew their attention. 


The noesis is that which gives the object or action (the noema) meaning for the 
participant. "The noesis refers to the act of perceiving, feeUng, thinking, remembering, 
or judging - ail of which are embedded with meanings that are concealed and hidden 
from consciousness" (Moustakas, 1994, p. 69). Put another way. 

The "noema is that which is experienced, the what of experience, the object- 
correlate. Noesis is the way in which the what is experienced, the experiencing or 
act of experiencing, the subject-correlate" (Ihde, 1977, cited in Moustakas, 1994, 
p. 69). 

The conceptual framework of intentionality as the coming together of the noema 
and noesis in one's consciousness provides the basis of Moustakas' model of 
phenomenology. When describing an experience, these components combine to form the 
unit of analysis for the researcher and the participant. The process, however, is not as 
simple as it may appear, for in reflecting on their experiences, participants engage in a 
process where there are "many meanings:" 

The noemata that connect or synthesize in such a way that one comes to know not 
only the parts of aspects of a thing but also its unity or wholeness. Husserl calls 
the partial views of a whole entity the noematic phases. The phases correspond to 
one another, add layers of meaning to each other, correlate with each other and 
form a comprehensive meaning of the wholeness of a thing. (Moustakas, 1994, p. 

The participants in this study not only engaged in this process as they reflected on 
their experiences, but I believe they also felt bound to articulate it for me in a way that 
offered some "unity or wholeness," hence the oft-repeated question "Is this what you 


want?" Moreover, if one accepts Harding's proposal that intention is just one component 
of a two-component process whereby one comes to recognize an ethical dilemma, and the 
process of "looking and reflecting, looking and reflecting again, ... to obtain true, 
accurate and complete descriptions" is a necessary first step in bringing intention to 
consciousness, then it is no wonder my participants had difficulty labeling their 
experience as an "ethical dilemma" at the start. 

If the first step in the process of coming to recognize an ethical dilemma is 
realizing "intention," then the second step is that of recognizing "contradiction." One 
may come to realize that there are one or more choices to be made in order to promote 
one's view of the way things ought to be. However, with an ethical dilemma, there is an 
element of contradiction in those choices. "The choices inherent in a dilemma are not 
just two different options; they are incompatible alternatives requiring a recognition of 
the contradictory nature of their outcomes" (Harding, 1985, p. 52). Again, Harding 
refers to Piagetian theory that says children eventually come to understand the concept of 
"negation," that is, that an action may render an outcome impossible. Put another way, 
certain possibilities become "indissociable" from certain actions. 

For my co-researchers and me, the phenomenon under study was the process they 
went through of perceiving and attending to a problematic situation (intentionality), 
choosing between inaction or action, and then recognizing that a dilemma existed as they 
grappled with the contradiction and negations inherent in the possible outcomes. My role 
was to render an "absolutely faithful description of that which [lay] before [me] in 


phenomenological purity, and in keeping at a distance all interpretations that transcend 
the given" (Husserl, 1931, p. 262, cited in Moustakas, 1994, p. 70-71). 

Data Analysis 
My initial attempts at data analysis began with the construction of individual 
cases ("single subject analysis" Moustakas, 1994). I looked at each participant's 
transcripts and pulled together a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Initially, (with 
the first two cases), I tried to separate the "individual textural" from the "individual 
structural" accounts, consistent with Moustakas' methods (p. 121). According to this 
model, the experience of the phenomenon is described first and only in terms of explicit 
events, [the "individual textural", or the "what happened" (Creswell, 1998, p. 148)]. The 
"individual structural" account is a description of underlying dynamics of the experience, 
or "How the event was experienced" (Creswell, p. 148). I found, however, in examining 
my participants' stories, that the two accounts were inextricably linked. Participants gave 
me rich accounts of their experiences, but the underlying dynamics of the experience 
were part of its genetic code. Attempting to perform the initial data analysis while 
purposefully extricating the events from the underlying experiences, thoughts, feelings, 
fears, etc., felt unnatural to me. For cases three through ten I constructed what Weiss 
would call individual case studies (1994, p. 168), or what Moustakas referred to as 
"composite" descriptions (p. 121). This is different from the form of qualitative research 
called "case study" in that the unit of analysis remains the phenomena under study, not 
the person, and as such, is devoid of much of the context afforded to formal case studies. 
Because investigators, as well as readers, grasp concrete cases more easily than 
abstract models, constructing case studies can be useful even in an issue-focused 


analysis. It isn't necessary, but I have found that when I am unable to work out a 
persuasive conceptual scheme or unsure of what to emphasize in achieving local 
integration or inclusive integration, I am helped by putting together the materials 
of an individual case. I gain from the experience of case construction a more 
immediate understanding of the situation of respondents, and I can then more 
easily imagine how that situation might be presented and explained. (Weiss, p. 

My method is consistent with Moustakas' model in that "Some phenomenologists 
vary this approach by incorporating personal meaning of the experience (Moustakas, 
1994) by using single-subject analysis before intersubject analysis and by analyzing the 
role of the context in the process (Giorgi, 1975, cited in Creswell, p. 55). Single subject 
studies are presented in Chapter Four. 

In making sense of my data, I then constructed a matrix of categories of meaning. 
Possibilities included examining the nature of the dilemma through Harding's definition. 
That is, to identify the participants' intentions from the contradictions - or in this case, 
the obstacles. Other possibilities included identifying the nature of the dilemmas as 
being conflicts of duties or moral sentiments. Although this study is not intended to be 
one of discourse analysis, I did pay careful attention to the language my co-researchers 
used in their narratives, using Nash's (2002) framework for categorizing moral language. 
Narrative Analysis 
The language we use to narrate our ethical dilemmas - the way we tell ourselves 
and others what's going on in the world - is not necessarily the language we use 
to analyze and resolve those dilemmas. The former tends to be flexible. 


subjective, artistic. The latter tends to be firm, objective, even scientific. ... At 
times, it can seem so fuzzy, amorphous, and slippery as to contribute little to our 
understanding. At other times, it can seem so rigid and buttoned-down that the 
understanding it conveys, while accurate, is hardly worth having. . . . Ethics is, at 
bottom, a verbal activity. (Kidder, 1995, p. 176) 

In my work with my co-researchers, and certainly in analyzing the transcripts, I 
came to see their responses as "telling stories" - something more than asking questions 
and getting answers. Mischler states, "A general assumption of narrative analysis is that 
telling stories is one of the significant ways individuals construct and express meaning" 
(1986, p. 67). He cites Gee's (1985, p. 1 1) assertion that "One of the primary ways - 
probably the primary way - human beings make sense of their experience is by casting it 
in a narrative form" (Mischler, 1986, pp. 67-68). Although I was prepared with my 
interview questions, I found in most of my cases that the co-researchers easily launched 
into a narrative format which included most of the data I was looking for, embedded in 
the recounting of their experiences. More importantly, stepping back and allowing the 
co-researchers room to tell their stories allowed them in turn to focus on what they 
experienced to be important phenomena, without having to limit themselves to my 
imposed framework. Mischler delineates problems inherent in narrative analysis - 
namely, is the story "one story with related subplots or a series of different stories?" 
(1986, p. 73). Where does the story begin and end? I believe that the nature of my topic 
guided my co-researchers to keep their stories bounded to one phenomena. Narratives 
were sometimes non-linear in the sequence of events, or the introduction of major 
characters, but it wasn't too difficult to go back and reconstruct the events based on the 


semantic cues of their accounts. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the only difficulty 
encountered in the story-telling came from a lack of shared understanding of the term 
"ethical dilemma." Co-researchers wanted to know that their story would be relevant to 
my research. I could only tell them that I believed there was an ethical component to 
difficult decisions, and that it was my job to find it. As the stories unfolded, the co- 
researchers began to see the intentionality and contradiction (or, they recognized the 
dilemma) inherent in their situation. As I encouraged them to continue, we came to a 
shared understanding of the nature of the ethical dilemma. This process is reminiscent of 
Mischler's accounting of Paget's work (1982, 1983a, 1983b) wherein "she creates a 
situation where the respondent too is engaged in a search for understanding" (Mischler, 
1986, p. 97). 

Analyzing Language 

The language of ethical decision making is characterized by words such as 
"ought," "right," "fair," "just," and "equitable." In Real World Ethics: Frameworks for 
Educators and Human Service Professionals (2002), John Nash categorizes all moral 
discourse into one of three "languages" - First, Second, and Third. Elements of 
consequentialist, nonconsequentialist, and virtues theories of ethics are found in each of 
the three languages; it is the location of the idea that shapes the language in distinct 
First Moral Language 

According to Nash, the First Moral Language is that which originates in a 
person's Background Beliefs - those taken-for-granted notions of how the world is or 


how the world ought to be. ^ These assumptions often go unnoticed in all but the most 
reflective people but, Nash asserts, provide the foundation from which individual ethical 
thought emanates. The First Moral Language of Background Beliefs inhabits the 
"metaphysical life-space" of the individual and is the central "moral vantage poinf 
(Nash, 2002, p. 37) that provides the initial reference point for ethical decision making. 
When people speak of "responsibility, the law, conscience, rights, ideals, and religious 
obligations" they do so from a set of "fundamental assumptions" that constitute their own 
source of moral authority (Nash, p. 36). Individual Background Beliefs are those which 
"ground . . . ethical thinking and behavior in something more than moral whim" (Nash, p. 
39). These fundamental assumptions include individual beliefs regarding the nature and 
source of morality, [e.g. the possibility or impossibility of an ultimate objective morality 
such as "natural law" or "the Golden Rule," (Nash, p. 41 & 49)], spirituality [e.g. 
religious faith, atheism, agnosticism, or a belief in the possibility of an unseen but 
powerful transcendent force in the world (Nash, p. 43)], and moral philosophy, [including 
mode of reasoning, belief in universalizability versus situationalism, and "masculine" or 
impartial versus "feminine" or cormected epistemology (Nash, p. 47 - 54)]. 
Second Moral Language 

Nash describes the Second Moral Language as that of virtuosity of character. 
People speak in the Second Moral Language when they talk about themselves, who they 
are as moral agents, and how this shapes their moral decision making. Contrasting this 
layer of language with the "thinner" layers of beliefs and principles, Nash calls this a 
"thick" language (2002, p. 58). Within this language, people use terms related to "virtue, 
narrative, community, feelings, structures, and ideals" (Nash, p. 61). Central to the 

^ Sergiovanni refers to these as "mindscapes" (1992, p. 7). 


Second Moral Language is the idea that people grow into their moral selves, and continue 
to grow throughout the life span. Reminiscent of Aristotle's view, it is less concerned 
with the question "What should I do?" than with "Who shall I be?" Doing the right thing 
has less to do with appealing to the correct rule or principle and more to do with 
preserving one's moral integrity. When engaged in this layer of language, people will 
talk about whether or not an action was "in character" or "out of character" for them 
(Nash, p. 67). How people feel about themselves in response to an ethical decision 
reveals the kind of moral person they strive to be, or their personal moral "ideal" (Nash, 
p. 78). Intuition is of primary importance here. 

When speaking of their bases for ethical decision-making in the Second Moral 
Language, people will talk of their moral identities as being shaped by the important 
communities in their lives, including ethnic heritage, religion, and family. They may 
describe a "moral exemplar" (Nash, 2002, p. 79) or narrate an experience - either as an 
active participant or witness - that served as a catalyst for personal moral growth. 

When people speak in the Second Moral Language, they use terms associated 
with the construct of "virtuous" - caring, trustworthy, honest, etc. A personal, idealized 
version of oneself is made up of virtues long ago promoted by Aristotle and Plato, and 
people have a strong sense of the virtues most cherished. Ethical dilemmas are present 
for people when they feel forced into an action based on principle which goes against 
some virtue they believe to be integral to themselves as moral people. (For example, 
betraying a colleague's trust in service of publicizing a moral wrong.) 

Nash asserts one's profession is a community through which people grow into 
their moral selves. Professions provide moral training for people, formally and 


informally, through purposeful and incidental induction and example. In some 
professions, such as law and medicine, ethical behavior is formally codified and ever 
present in the mind of the professionals. Other professions, such as school 
administration, have a set of codified ethics^, but many people are unaware they exist. 
Shapiro and Stefkovich (2001) write about the "ethic of the profession," a paradigm 
based on such principles as "professional standards," "individual professional," 
"personal," and "community code of ethics" with the "best interest of student" at the 
center. They place this ethic on a semantically equal level with other such paradigms as 
"ethic of care," "ethic of critique" and "ethic of justice.""^ When professional training - 
and the resultant "role expectations" (Nash, 2002, p. 93) come into conflict with a 
cherished virtue, an ethical dilemma is formed. 
Third Moral Language 

Nash describes the Third Moral Language in terms of rules, principles, and 
theories. Abstracted from the human experience, it is a "thin" language, made necessary 
by the diversity inherent in a "secular, pluralist" world. 

Even though we belong to a number of concrete moral communities, we must 
always come together in secular pluralist institutions. Thus we need to find a 
"moral grammar" that is capable of spanning these numerous, divergent 
communities if we are to settle our moral dilem.mas peaceably. (Nash, 2002, p. 

' see administrator code of ethics 

'" Kidder (1995) disputes the validity of elevating specific professional codes of conduct to the level of 

"ethic," claiming that all dilemmas come down to a fundamental conflict of core values, and to suggest that 

one's profession might cause one to behave in ways contrary to one's personal ethics is to legitimize moral 



Nash's interpretation of a language which speaks of "morally agreed upon 
principles" (2002, p. 109) is reminiscent of Kant's categorical imperative - once invoked, 
it takes on moral authority. Its power lies in its universal acceptance. 

When people speak of moral principles, they may use "simple maxims" or rules 
such as "practice what you preach" or "accept responsibility for your choices" (Nash, 
2002, p. 110). However phrased, formal principles such as "autonomy, veracity, fidelity, 
nonmaleficence, justice, confidentiality, and promise-keeping" are typically at the root 
(Nash, p. 111). Objectivists will argue that moral principles come from some kind of 
irrefutable universal law, such as "natural law" or God, and situationists will 
contextualize principles in terms of culture or history (Nash, p. 111). When invoking 
moral principles to support ethical decision-making, deontologists will state that the 
principle itself is that which provides ultimate authority. Utilitarians, concerned with the 
consequences of the decision, will most likely invoke the principle of beneficence, or 
doing the most good (Nash, p. 1 12). (These classifications are not to suggest that people 
neatly fall into one of two categories - Nash believes most people use both ethical 
stances at various times in their lives, however with one stance being dominant over the 
other.) When a deontological viewpoint comes into conflict with that of a utilitarian, the 
resulting action is judged by the other to be a "cop-out," or "caving in" to some lesser 
valued principle (Nash, p. 1 14). 

Finally, Nash describes the purposeful action of combining the three languages as 
"ethical bricolage," or "the process in which one begins with bits and pieces of received 
linguistic material, arranges some of them into a structured whole, leaves others to the 
side, and ends up with a moral language one proposes to use" (Nash, 2002, p. 146, citing 


Stout, 1981, p. 124). With the claim that "good ethical decision-making incorporates all 
three moral languages" (Nash, p. 147, italics in the original), Nash criticizes models of 
ethical analysis (including Noddings' ethic of care) that fail to purposefully integrate 
background beliefs, moral character, and abstract ethical principles in the decision- 
making. Feminist models of ethics, in particular, come under his scrutiny for their 
distaste for "masculine" and "hierarchical" formal principles of ethical reasoning. Nash 
uses the term "moral discernment," borrowed from Gustofson (1981), to describe the 
ideal of ethical reasoning based on thoughtful deliberation, and advocates for a rendering 
of both teleological and deontological perspectives: "The upshot of considering both 
your consequences and your principles while analyzing an ethical dilemma is that you are 
leaving no moral stone unturned" (Nash, p. 198). 

In my examination of my co-researchers stories, I have born in mind that they 
were speaking to me as "multidimensional moral agents who [were] potentially trilingual 
in their ethical decision-making" (Nash, 2002, p. 147). 

Statement of the Research Question: 

How do selected elementary school principals experience the phenomenon of 
decision-making when faced with an ethical dilemma and what are the essential meanings 
that they bring to the experience upon reflection? 

The ten cases presented here, although they tell very different stories, fall 
essentially into one of four topics. They illustrate the ethical struggles these principals 


felt over (1) teacher dismissal, (2) staff supervision, (3) student discipline, and (4) 
subverting personal feelings for a professional standard. 
Teacher dismissal 
So it was probably my most difficult piece of my job, knowing that I was 
changing her life. That I was charged with the protection and 
enhancement of the lives of these five year olds and six year olds - that 
was a higher priority for me. 
The process of dismissing a teacher is a difficult and complicated series of tasks 
that can drain the energies of the most competent and dedicated principal. Because the 
stakes are so high, it is imperative that the principal be absolutely sure it is warranted. In 
the following three cases, Alice, Phyllis, and Linda share their stories of working toward 
getting a teacher fired from her job. At the heart of their stories is the concept of due 
process. These three did not waver from their belief that it was in the best interest of 
their school community to let these underperforming teachers go. Their difficulty lay in 
satisfying those aspects of due process that protect employees from capricious judgments 
against them, namely (1) standards of performance must be consistently applied and (2) 
decisions should be made on the basis of reasonable evidence, reasonable meaning that 
evidence is collected over a period of time and shows good faith attempts to help the 
teacher improve (Strike, Haller, & Soltis, 1998, p. 77). This is a process which requires 
principals to document, often over a period of years, instances of incompetence or 
underper formance . 


Phyllis is a principal of a middle class suburban school west of Boston. She has 
been in the system for 3 1 years, the first 1 8 as a classroom teacher. She became an 
interim principal when the existing one was in a car accident during the first week of 
school. The system advertised for an interim principal, but no candidates moved forward. 
At the end of the fall season, after the Assistant Superintendent had tried to fill the role, 
she applied for the interim position and was hired. She had earned administrative 
licensure and looked at the situation as an opportunity to "just get things back in order" as 
well as to see if she enjoyed the role. She did. 

And then of course I got the chance to see how much of an impact I could have on 
the classroom teachers. So truly I was a classroom teacher who had the 
opportunity to do this small "internship." And at the time most of the graduate 
programs you didn't have any opportunity to do field work. 
The following year, Phyllis applied for the position permanently and was hired. 
That was thirteen years ago. When asked to recall a time in her principalship when she 
was forced to make a difficult decision, her immediate answer is 

I can think of the first time I let a teacher go. It was a reading teacher and I hired 
her. I did hire her. . . . Typically you would like to give someone a chance the 
first year. And if you're not going to rehire them my thought would be to let them 
go after the first year. It gets more difficult year after year. But her first year she 
did an effective job. 

In this teacher's second year, Phyllis began have her doubts about her continued 


Her second year there were many things - in her integrity to the work, her 
commitment to the school, a lack of taking direction. . . . We planned some 
professional development activities but she wouldn't come to them . . . The final 
straw was as I was working with her, . . . Rose Bradley [a Reading Consultant] 
was offering a course here. . . . And when she came back she signed on the 
attendance sheets that she wasn't present at. And that integrity really shook me. 
In spite of Phyllis' skepticism regarding the Reading Teacher's commitment, she 

was not confident in her own ability to fairly assess the situation. She called on the 

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for help. 

So he began to help me evaluate, sharing the evaluation process and we did 
jointly not make a recommendation for new re-hire at the end of that second year. 
Phyllis did try to offer the teacher support in the form of informal mentorship ("I 

paired her up with another reading teacher at another one of the elementary schools.") 

She also met with her to discuss her performance: 

I would begin to make meetings to meet with her after school. Which would be 
unlike me. I would ask a teacher would they like to talk with me at lunch or if 
you have a break come on down. But I began to find myself actually planning the 
after school time just see if I could keep her here to think it through. 
For Phyllis, the decision to not ask this teacher back at the end of her second year, 

even though she had proven to be a disappointment, was made difficult because of the 

teacher's youth: 

That was difficult. She was a young girl. You know, you keep wanting to give 
everybody that shot. That they will come around, that they'll turn around their 


work ethic. Maybe there's something going on in their personal life that's 
temporary. It's tough to let someone go, that's always been very difficult for me. 
It was also difficult for Phyllis because she was fearful she was evaluating on a 

personal level, rather than on an objective one. 

Finally, I enlisted the support of the Curriculum Coordinator for English 
Language Arts. And that was the best thing that happened to me. To discuss it, 
have someone to discuss it with. Have him help me sort out my feelings. Is it 
personal? You know, you don't agree with everyone's personal values. 
Phyllis felt this mentor was helpful because he helped her examine her fear of the 


That was a great resource for me. ... He was a great resource that I could go and 
talk about the issue that's going on and he was very non judgmental and would 
help me to look inside and say, "Is this you or is this a real issue?" and "Try these 
strategies." So really mentoring me through. That was very helpful. So he was 
less evaluative in his position. He was more in a mentoring aspect. 

How did the reading teacher react to the dismissal? 

She was disappointed, she was angry. ... I think she always held out hope that I'd 

give her that one more year. 

Looking back, she believes the situation would have been easier for her if there 

was a more objective instrument for teacher evaluation and remediation: 

I think a more formalized instrument would 've saved me a lot of agony. I think if 
you put it down in black and white, you have a little contract that you're going - 
you can work from a printed document that separates it from this personal piece. 


In the end, Phyllis feels she learned about how to make wiser hiring choices: 
You know, I think learning on the backs of others is difficult, but seeing how she 
performed . . . And I certainly hired someone that I was, a little bit, improved my 
interviewing skills, helped me refine the qualifications and the qualities I was 
looking for in a Reading person. You only have one and it's a big school. 
She also believes that her school benefited from her dismissal: 
I needed a higher quality reading teacher. Every teacher stood to gain because I 
needed someone to lead the professional development. 

Phyllis believes the benefits to her school went beyond the immediate acquisition 
of a better reading teacher. She believes that her teachers were reassured to know that 
she would enforce a high standard of professionalism among the staff: 

Phyllis spoke in the First Language of Background Beliefs when she talked about 
what made the letting go of a new reading teacher difficult for her: 

You would like to give someone a chance the first year. . . . You keep wanting to 
give everybody that shot. 

She had hired this teacher, and believed that the "right" thing to do was to give 
her "a shot" or "a chance" to "turn around her work ethic." In support of this belief, 
perhaps to present herself to me as someone who does give young teachers a fair chance 
to improve, Phyllis told a story of another young teacher. 

I had one teacher who was very marginal the first year, really little training, 
green as green could be. ... This teacher was so green. [PT tells two stories 
involving naive mistakes with stuffing report cards and filling out his grade 
book.] ... He was trying so hard. But he is one of my finest teachers now. He 


just took the guidance, he welcomed being out of the classroom to watch other 
teachers, strove to model what good teaching skills were. Was a great success. 
So not everybody who was problematic did leave. 

Phyllis also believed that harboring personal feelings about the reading teacher 
might have led her to make a decision that was unfair - she feared that somehow her own 
personal values might have polluted what she felt should be a fair and objective 
assessment of the teacher's performance. She wished she had an objective assessment 
tool that she could have used in evaluating this teacher. 

I think a more formalized instrument would' ve saved me a lot of agony. 
Phyllis values objectivity and impartiality. The person she went to for advice was 
helpful because he was "less evaluative" and "very non-judgmental" as he helped her sort 
out her own personal feelings and separate them from the "real issue." She uses 
quantifiable language when she recounts her thought process at the time: 

So, I guess I saw that all along but I had a difficult time framing, and is that 
enough for dismissal? You know, weighing out what actually warrants dismissal? 
Now, Phyllis finds those aspects of education reform regarding teacher 
performance expectations helpful: 

There was no protocol you know. ... It was probably around 1995, 96. You know 
today with all the education reform, with all the controversies, you need 
procedure. There are documented principles for effective teaching. Having those 
kinds of expectations and standards written down, I think the whole adoption of 
standards helps a principal too ... 


Consistent with objectivist moral reasoning, Phyllis longed for the impartial 
authority of a checklist that she could use to determine whether or not this teacher should 
be let go. In that year, in the absence of a protocol, Phyllis even attempted to create one 
with her colleagues: 

I met with the two other, my two other contemporaries to help develop a process 
for dismissal. But we didn't own one in the system. 

Part of what made this decision difficult for Phyllis was her belief that good 
administrators are supportive of their teachers when they make mistakes: 

It's a tough job, every day, and it should be - you should feel supported. You 
should feel when you make a mistake in the classroom, which people do every 
day, that there's an administrator that's going to be standing behind you and say, 
okay, how are we going to build this to fix it? How are we going to remediate it, 
fix the problem, and move forward? Not a feeling of aha - gotcha! 
To illustrate this belief, Phyllis recounted a recent event where a teacher had lost 
her patience with a child and, rather than admonish the teacher, she stepped in to help: 
Last week I walked by a first grade teacher's classroom and there's a little guy 
coming out and he has lots of emotional problems, and she could all but pull 
herself together. And you know, I just happened to be walking by. And I said, 
get a cup of coffee you know, and pull yourself together. I was so happy that I 
was there but I realized this teacher needs support because this child is just too 
difficuh. . . . Nobody should be that distraught. 

" It is interesting to note that Phyllis was a mathematics and technology major in undergraduate school. 
Has this experience shaped her desire for weights and measurements? For quantifiable evidence? objective 
proof that the teacher should be let go? Or was it the other way around - did her belief in objective ways of 
knowing lead her to select her major? 


Phyllis also shared a background belief with me that she learned from her parents: 

Oh, I definitely think my home values are all in here. You were responsible. If 
you said you were going to do it, you did it. And I guess that's something that I 
expect from my staff. 
With this basic belief regarding the way one ought to be, it must have particularly 
offended Phyllis when the teacher signed her name to an attendance sheet for a course 
she didn't attend. 

Using Nash's Second Language of Moral Character, the attribute of being "non- 
judgmental" appears as a desirable trait for Phyllis. She wants very much to be a non- 
judgmental person. Her helpful mentor was non-judgmental. Now, after thirteen years of 
experience, she believes she is non-judgmental: 

I am more confident too. Experience helps everyone. I can easily sit with a 
teacher in a non-judgmental way and review a lesson plan. Review what I just 
observed. Make suggestions for changes. 

In the end, Phyllis is comfortable with her decision to let this teacher go, even 
though at the fime she quesfioned her own ability to make the "right" decision. She 
believes the decision was helpful in communicating to her staff her expectafions for 
teacher performance: 

Any teacher that I have let go, I think it buih more confidence in my staff because 
if I'm seeing it, they're seeing it. And when you come to work every day and 
you're working to your fullest capacity, and the person beside you just isn't, 
you're not offended that they're not being rehired and recognized year after year 
for poor performance. . . . You know, there were a few people that . . . chummed 


with that person, but on the greater scale, there was nothing that I did that was 
bad. Set up the standard right away that said I expect from everyone.''^ 

Linda is a former principal who had just retired when I met her for our interview. 
It was during the summertime, and she wore shorts and a bright purple t-shirt with the 
name of her elementary school emblazoned on the front. She recalled her 16 years as a 
principal in a fairly wealthy suburban town as "the highlight of my whole educational 
career." She has had a full career - beginning as a second grade teacher in 1963 on Long 
Island in New York. She developed an interest in learning disabilities as a result of 
watching her son struggle, earning her doctorate in that subject. While a principal, she 
taught as an adjunct instructor at a university and was active in MESPA (Massachusetts 
Elementary School Principals Association). 

The district in which she was a principal had an "open enrollment" scheme, 
meaning that parents could choose their school for their children, regardless of where 
they lived in town. For Linda, this was a bonus: 

. . .so parents get to choose the school that they want to be in. And that does a 
couple of things. It makes the parents want to be in the best possible school that 
would be the best match for their kid, and they also want to be right about their 
selection. So they work very hard in the schools and they - economically can 
afford - many of them - 40, almost 50% - to be very actively involved and 
meaningfully involved in the school. 

'" Phyllis' metaphors are taken from the field of science and measurement: "working to fullest capacity", 
"on the greater scale" "set up the standard". 


Linda also enjoyed the benefits of a long tenure, having had selected every teacher by the 

time she left. "It was the best job you could ever have in the world." 
Linda speaks very positively about her teaching staff: 

. . .the teachers wanted to be in a school that was selected, so that in addition to 
their internal motivations was a wonderftal advantage for me as a leader in this 
school. . . . The teachers, as time went by, began their road toward collaboration in 
a way that I had never seen before and they would share lesson plans and units 
and projects and grade- wide activity in a way that made it quite unusual. 
There was one teacher, however - a Reading Specialist - that gave Linda cause 

for concern: 

And her style was very different than mine, which is fine. And I guess I was 
trying to understand her style. And I would work with her on a weekly basis 
because she was part of our child study team and I met with the child study team 
weekly. And I would watch her get angry sometimes, in an adult arena, and it 
stung me. I thought what is that about? And so, even though I wasn't her direct 
supervisor, I made sure to go in and visit her frequently when she was with kids. 
And it turned out that while she was with kids in a reading setting, she was only 
with them for a half hour at a time, and she could hold it together for that half 
hour. So you could never really see anything. 

Budget cuts forced Linda to put this Reading Specialist into a first grade classroom. 

Very shortly after she began her first grade, the kids kind of went bonkers. They 
were yelling and screaming in the classroom. . . . Very shortly, I would say by 
December of that year, I knew it wasn't right. And I began to speak to her about 


what I saw and what my areas of discomfort were and where she needed to 
improve and what courses I might suggest or workshops, particularly around 
discipline. And she took them, and she's very bright. And when I would come in 
and observe her everything would be hunky dory. But shortly thereafter it would 
fall apart and I would hear screaming in the halls and other teachers would call 
and say I think this woman, let's call her Jane, is having trouble. Could you come 
down and help? 
Linda enlisted a number of people to help Jane in the classroom, and to 

discourage her from yelling: 

I had the counselor involved, I had parent helpers in there. I had an assistant I put 
in there thinking that all those people would, almost - not embarrass her to 
behave and to not yell at kids - but it would motivate her. Let's put it that way. 
Maybe if I'm being honest a combination between embarrass and motivate. 
This went on for a year, and then Linda decided to begin the process of "trying to 

get her out." This process would take three years. 

For three years I wrote and documented on this woman every single day. Every 
day because there was another incident every single day. And in the third year 1 
had another principal come in and observe because the union was saying that 
perhaps I was biased against her. 
Linda even had the superintendent come in to observe her. On this day, Jane 

arrived late to her class. One alternative Linda considered was to have Jane transferred to 

a position "in curriculum" where "she could have helped to develop curriculum but not 

be with kids." 


For Linda, working toward dismissing this teacher was not an easy process. She 
characterizes Jane as "a kind person" who would "take a poor child and make him her 
project for Christmas and would - instead of buying toys for her own family - invest and 
take care of this little boy." Moreover, Linda knew Jane's husband was unemployed and 
there were three children in the family - children who were students in Linda's school. 
Still, every year Linda would receive requests from parents who didn't want their 
children placed in Jane's classroom. 

This was Linda's first time she was solely responsible for a teacher dismissal. It 
was difficult for her: 

. . .her [Jane's] home life was in crisis as well. I knew that and her older child was 
getting into legal problems in the junior high and the high school. So my heart 
was breaking for her but I had to get her out. 

Part of the difficulty for Linda was that, contrary to her preferred method of 
supervision, she was forced to purposefully look for weaknesses instead of strengths: 
. . . I'm always - 1 tend to look for the best in what people are doing. I wasn't 
doing that at the end. In order to make a case I had to focus on the negative rather 
than the positive. And I knew what I was doing, that I had to get her out. So that 
was kind of a dilemma too because no matter how fast you want to - there are 
always some good things but in order for a case to stick legally, when you go into 
arbitration and so forth, you need to make your case pretty strong. 
At the end of the three year period, Linda was able to dismiss Jane. She had 
mixed feelings about doing it, but knew that it was the right thing to do. 


So, though I knew it was right to get her away from the children, I felt terrible 
because she's a good human being and I knew she was going through that hard 
time with her family. So it was probably my most difficult piece of my job, 
knowing that I was changing her life, that I was charged with the protection and 
enhancement of the lives of these five year olds and six year olds that was a 
higher priority for me. 

Linda had gone to great lengths to help this teacher improve: 

I had the consulting psychologist work with her for the better part of a year ... I 
worked with the union, the head of the union. I worked with almost anybody I 
could think of. ... I took workshops with her, I tried to befriend her, you know - 
not on a boss/teacher level but on an equal let 's learn something new together. 
Team teaching - I even team taught with her for several lessons. ... I tried to 
reduce the amount of time that she was alone with the kids. ... I departmentalized 
the first grade [!] so she would not have the same kids and then I realized I'm 
spreading it out. 

She talked about her feelings throughout this period: 

Mostly I felt terrible. I felt terrible for the children, number one, for the parents, 
for her, for me, for her colleagues, for everyone touching it. For my colleagues, 
my fellow principal - took up so much of their time figuring out and strategizing 
and getting ideas from them ... the hours, and then the anger, too. I have to say 
that because the hours that I spent at central office strategizing over how to do 
this, the meetings with the union heads, the legal advice. ... It gobbled up so 
much of my time that it took on a whole other life. It was like having another job 


as well as doing all the other things you have to do as a principal. . . . And so it 
was sadness, it was frustration, and eventually anger and then one of advocacy - 
you know, I'm going to make that change. But it was depressing too. It was all 
those things. ... I thought I was destroying a woman's life in one way. 
Linda's only real regret is that she "didn't do h sooner, more rapidly." She 

remembers at the time that her perspective was as yet undeveloped: 

I was a new principal. I thought, oh, maybe this is what you get. You get a curve. 
You get okay, you get mediocre, and you get very good. I couldn't stand to not 
have all be at the very good. . . . And I think that I was so motivated to get rid of 
people like this particular Jane that I chose to do more work at the college level 
and counsel people out who should not be in teaching to begin with. ... I think all 
the time about why did I wait so long? Why did that take me four years? 
Linda's experience has influenced work that she does now with superintendents: 
I have a hidden agenda of encouraging them to be more supportive, particularly of 
new principals. Having a mentoring relationship with them or setting up a mentor 
that would give them a little bit more confidence to act more rapidly and give 
them the tools to do it. ... I suspect every school has some of those teachers. We 
need to get them out. 

Alice is a principal in a very wealthy town outside of Boston. She has been a 

school principal for twenty-one years. She didn't want to be a principal when she first 

thought about leaving the classroom: 


I never actually wanted to be a principal. I was a teacher for seven or eight years 
in [large, relatively poor district]. I then decided I would really like to be an 
elementary curriculum director or a person who oversaw the principals. So I 
realized that in order to do that I needed to have the credibility as a principal, so I 
really had to be a principal before I could be in charge of principals . . . 
Once she became a principal, however, she found she loved it - especially being 
part of a school community and developing relationships. (Her office displays a large 
bulletin board with hundreds of pictures of families within her school community.) She 
was a principal in a moderate-income community before moving to her current district. 
After ten years she had the opportunity to open a new school in this town. 

Alice tells me about her experience with dismissing a teacher when she was in her 
third year of the principal ship. This teacher was a special education teacher who, in 
Alice's estimation, was a "terrible" teacher. 

. . .Terrible in that she didn't have high enough expectations. She got by on the 
model that people are so relieved - often, teachers are so relieved that someone 
else is taking care of special ed students that they don't really pay attention. So, 
she had no goals. She thought that these kinds of kids don't make leaps and 
bounds in their success and she wasn't pulling them. ... It was like shooting from 
the hip every time she met with special ed kids. 

Alice seems certain that this teacher was not good for her school. When I ask, 
then, what made the situation difficult for her, she first tells me that she was a "nice 
person" who "cared about kids." However, she also tells me that the other teachers in the 
school did not think she was a good teacher: 


To the staff- she had been there a long time and she was kind and generous but 
they also did not think she was cut out for the job. Even some veteran people, 
they did not feel like the kids were taken care of when they were in her hands. 
Alice tells me that she was "royally pissed - furious" that the director of 
elementary programs at the time did not support her decision to dismiss the teacher. 

But the first thing is that people - Special Ed directors don't have a careful enough 
eye about what is good and powerful instruction. So the Director of Special Ed 
was a wonderful, good guy. The person in charge of K - 5 thought that this 
person's problem was that she was just a difficult personality but her instruction 
was fine. ... I was annoyed that this person - the elementary director - thought 
that she could just be transferred. So twice she tried to transfer her. . . . And I was 
insulted, actually, by the idea that a co-worker who'd been in the system and at 
my same administrative level would think that she could be an effective 
classroom teacher. 

Alice disagreed with the attempts made by the elementary director to transfer this 
teacher to first a computer curriculum position and then to a classroom with emotionally 
disturbed children. She felt the teacher would not be effective as a "computer person" in 
spite of the teacher's interest in technology, due to her lack of organization and 
scheduling. She also didn't think it was "fair" to have her teach emotionally disturbed 
children without the necessary training. 

I didn't think she'd be particularly good but that had happened to her and that 
wasn't fair. 


Alice also worked with the new Director of Special Education in town to help this 

teacher improve her instruction. 

When we first started out, and I say now we - this was the Director of Special Ed 
- 1 went to put her on an improvement plan and I started out thinking that if this is 
reversed enough and she takes it seriously we really could turn her toward a - we 
could give her a chance and she could rebuild this. She didn't listen - that was 
part of her style anyway. She didn't listen and she couldn't hear the feedback at 
all. She resisted the conversation and she was defensive so we could never get 
engaged in a conversation that was helpfiil to her. 
Alice sought advice from a central office administrator who was "an expert in 

supervision," but often found that this person would "come up with a different image 

from what I was saying." Most helpful to Alice was the new Director of Special 


... it was only helpful to work with the Special Ed Director. The other person 
involved had not seen this person as so critical, but didn't like her and didn't, you 
know, really still didn't want her in her program, but she wasn't willing to do the 
heavy lifting. 
At the end of that year with an improvement plan, the Assistant Superintendent of 

the district met with the teacher. This meeting led to her resignation. 

. . .he actually offered her some ways out. You know to retire, to - sometimes just 
in that position they'll buy back sick time or something. And she quit before - 
well, now that I think of it from between year one and year two it looked like she 


was not improving and had not made progress, so year two was going to be a plan 

for dismissal. And at that point she resigned. 

An important aspect of this situation for Alice is that she was not considered the 

primary evaluator of this teacher. Since the teacher was a special education teacher, the 

Director of Special Education would have been considered her ultimate supervisor. But 

Alice did not believe this precluded her from "calling the shots." 

... it doesn't matter that they [special education staff] really worked for the 
Department of Special Ed - they are in my school. I have an input on it. I was 
calling the shots to say this is the year - she can't work here anymore. She's not 
doing the job. We need someone different in the job. 

There was no argument from the faculty: 

. . .the staff I think understood that there were some issues between [the teacher] 
and myself, but they didn't - I don't know - they didn't give me a hard time about 
it. They stayed away. I think they felt that they gained something in the end. . . . 
I mean they were the first to admit that they would come down to me and at that 
time we only had one Learning Center person, K - 5, and then we had one aide. 
And they would do things like say look it's my turn to have the aide do the 
service in my room instead of [the teacher]. So, knowing that they had done that, 
they knew that they were in a weak position to kind of rally around her. 
When I ask Alice about how she acquired her sense of what should be done - her 

"moral compass" - she places it in a professional context: 

I think from being in touch with my feelings and knowing that if someone's not 
doing a good job it makes me so uncomfortable. So, it was really up to me and 


I've had several key mentors who've said it always - what matters is is it good for 
the child? So that's easy to come back to but what really matters to me is that I 
really do feel responsible for kids learning and I feel responsible when either kids 
or a parent - when I have to sit down with them and pretend or try to convince 
them that they're having the best year possible and teachers have different styles 
and go through that whole routine but I'm so uncomfortable with it. You know, 
with the sense of thinking there's a piece of truth here [to the parents' concerns] 
and I don't know that I want to be living with either a lie or something and I don't 
want to be going through this the rest of my career with this person. 
Alice then tells me about her feelings of discomfort over another teacher she feU 

was not "up to the standard [she] was used to in [her] other school: 

But towards the end of the year nine parents from that class came to me and said I 
just want you to know how my child experienced this class. ... A couple of 
parents when they were assigned to her called and wanted appointments and it 
made me so uncomfortable to be saying she is a more traditional teacher. I knew 
that this was going to be a difficult year and so it's saying what can I do about 
that? I own this problem. And I think that's where it is - I own it. 

When I observe that she was uncomfortable that she "couldn't be 100% authentic with 

the parents" she responds: 

Even [with] the kids. I mean, being authentic is sort of what drives 

me in terms of my beliefs and things like that. 

This event has contributed to Alice's leadership in the area of interviewing and 

hiring new teachers: 


I think I ask harder questions and more focused questions in interviews. I think I 
have very high standards for special ed teachers. I think I try to support teachers 
in understanding they are in charge of their own growth. . . . You have to work 
with people and create a context of the difficulties embedded in any situation so 
that they [teachers] want to work towards change or a higher standard. I think 
that's really - that's more the way it has shaped me as a leader. 
Phyllis, Linda, and Alice were forced by their moral sense of what was right for 
students to engage in the thorny and unpleasant task of building a case against a teacher 
in order to have them dismissed. Phyllis perhaps said it best when she talked about how 
the process ran counter to her personal code of ethics: 

You know, you keep wanting to give everybody that shot. That they will come 
around, that they'll turn around their work ethic. Maybe there's something going 
on in their personal life that's temporary. It's tough to let someone go, that's 
always been very difficult for me. 

However difficult the process was, however, these principals were glad they had 
made the decisions they did. Not only did they rid their schools of underperforming 
teachers, they also sent a strong message to the staff about how far they would go to 
uphold high teaching standards. Both Alice and Phyllis reported that they felt more 
confident in the end, better able to trust their own instincts with interviewing and hiring 
new teachers. 


Staff Supervision and Evaluation 
So I believe in being right upfront. I believe you 've got to 
call it the way you see it. 


School principals have a professional responsibility to ensure their students are 
taught by an effective, caring teaching staff. They also have a responsibility to be 
accurate, honest, and helpful throughout the evaluation process. While this seems a 
simple enough concept, the process of teacher supervision and evaluation relies 
ultimately on the principal's subjective judgment. As with teacher dismissal, it is a high- 
stakes process of documentation, the resulting evaluation report becoming a permanent 
part of an employee's persoimel file. It is also a process that has not been taken very 
seriously by some principals, who will often gloss over incompetence with meaningless 
and insubstantial comments that don't get to the heart of good teaching. Debra, John, and 
Judy are three principals who found themselves in a position where being candid with 
staff about their job performance could have unintended detrimental consequences for 
them and their school. 


Debra is the principal of a small elementary school south of Boston in a town she 
refers to as "working class." We met in the summer before she began her fifth year at 
this school. She had been a high school teacher of English, a fifth grade teacher, and a 
Reading Specialist before she became a school principal. She considers her experience as 
a Reading Specialist important to her current role: 


Having been a Reading Specialist, I had been - had the opportunity to go into a 
lot of classrooms and get to see a lot that goes on. You get to see a lot of great 
teaching, and I always considered myself a really good teacher. 
When I ask her to tell me about a time when she was forced to make a difficult 
decision, she quickly replies 

The only thing that comes to mind is teacher evaluation. And that to me is 
probably one of the more challenging tasks that you face as a principal. 
When she first arrived at her school, she had set one goal for herself- to get to 
know the students and the staff. She made it a point to not allow herself to be influenced 
by the opinions of others: 

I try not to - you try not to listen to what other people tell you. You try to go in 
with an open mind, look at everyone. I'm brand new, they're brand new. That 
was my attitude coming in. Everyone gets a fresh start. Your first year, for me 
anyway, you spend absorbing it all. Taking it all in. ... So my first year I decided 
to focus entirely on learning the staff and the students. 
Debra quickly formed questions about two teachers: 

So when I started the initial observations, which were in the fall of my 
first year, you know there were two teachers that jumped out right at me 
that something just wasn't quite right. 
After she performed her first of two observations, she met with these teachers: 

After the first observation 1 met with both teachers, expressed probably 
not as forthright as I should have - some concerns regarding teaching and 
classroom management, classroom preparation, lesson preparations. With 


one teacher it appeared to be almost a shock that I was bringing this up. 
With the other teacher it was very professional; very what can I do to 
improve this situation? 
In an attempt to be fair to these teachers, Debra performed a follow up 
observation with each of them and saw improvement. However, she observed them in 
the spring unannounced, and was disappointed with what she saw. She felt she needed to 
act on her evaluations, but being new, she didn't quite know how to go about it: 

When in the spring I went to do my unannounced observations, they were worse 
than the original announced type of thing. So I did speak with one of my 
superiors as to what is the district's policy on handling this type of situation. And 
I was more or less advised to work with the teachers, do what you can with the 
teachers, keep it at the building level. 

Debra' s difficult decision in this case came at the end of the year when she was 
required to choose between an evaluation that read "meets the principles of effective 
teaching" or "does not meet the principles of effective teaching" for these two teachers. 
Searching for information that might help her, Debra went to central office and reviewed 
the teachers' prior evaluations: 

So prior to doing that I said - my gut told me - do a little more investigation here. 
So I went up and pulled their personnel files. And I was shocked that the 
recommendations, the evaluations - they were average. There was nothing in 
there that said, you know, anything was wrong . . . 

In spite of her earlier commitment to look at teacher performance with an open 
mind, she found herself influenced by these prior innocuous evaluations. 


So you start second guessing yourself. My God, why isn't someone seeing what 
I'm seeing? So - 1 chickened out. And I went back and wrote the evaluation and 
put that they were meeting the performance standards. 
I am interested in Debra's use of the phrase "chicken out." This is consistent with 

the feeling a person who is primarily deontological in thinking gets when they betray 

their own internal moral "rule-book." She explains: 

Well, after you hear from your superiors that - kind of take care of it - it was, 
well, doesn 't anyone do anything about this? And I was new. And I did walk 
into a place where there were two previous evaluators. Two that actually split the 
number of evaluations so when I say chicken out I started second guessing 
myself. Maybe Fm just - maybe I had too many evaluations, maybe I was 
stressed. As silly as it sounds, that's what I mean chicken out. I second guessed 
myself rather than going with my gut. 
Upon reflection, Debra is aware that she did not do what her conscience was 

telling her to do. She is open about the degree to which her own desire to be perceived 

poshively entered into her decision-making. When I ask her what her "gut" was telling 

her, she answers: 

Something's not right. I need to do something because they are not teaching the 
way they should be teaching. This is all in hindsight. And really the children are 
losing out. That should have been what my - I lost sight of my goal that day. 
Kids were losing out and I was more like - at that point I was more concerned I 
think [of] how I was going to be perceived. You know - is she going to be the 
one stirring up trouble? The new one? That's- so I chickened out. That's how I 


- 1 didn't want to be perceived as the one stirring trouble I guess. I don't know 

how to say it. 

However, she does allow herself off the hook a little when she talks about why 

she backed off from writing negative evaluations: 

But being the new person and then you check and you see evaluations that are - I 
mean nothing that said they were wonderful but nothing that said, you know, 
other than slight little suggestions that you would give. I don't know. You were 
told to give a suggestion so you gave a suggestion. Those types of suggestions 
but nothing on the route I was going to travel. 
Debra further explains her reason for not acting according to conscience. She did 

not feel confident and she did not have the impression that other principals in her district 

took the difficult route. 

Not confident - definitely not confident. I mean, I was a first year principal in a 
fairly large school. In fact, I believe we are probably the largest K - 4 school. In 
talking with my colleagues, no one was talking about anyone that they were 
concerned about. Jokingly, I think when we were in a social situation they might 
- not mention anyone by name but just say I have this teacher that's not quite 
where they need to be - but nothing. ... No one else seemed to be doing anj^hing 
so I wasn't going to be the one at this point. 
Debra's lack of confidence interfered with her willingness to inform central office 

[her superintendent, most likely] that she was faced with this situation. When I asked her 

if she asked anyone for advice - a colleague, another principal - Debra reveals her 

nervousness about bringing this issue to a higher level: 


No, I didn't. Not at that point. It's, as a first year person it's hard. I mean I had 
asked for advice on other things. Very generic things, but this was something that 
when I say I chickened out I think it's because T started second guessing, is the 
best way I can describe it. Maybe I was - it was me. Maybe my expectations 
were not - were higher than everyone else's. I don't know how to say it but no, I 
didn't consult because actually I didn't want anyone to know that I was facing this 
just yet. 

Debra's unwillingness to enlist the aid of central office changed the next year. 

Administration changed. And actually with that change also came a lot more 
training for the principals. All principals had done [coursework in] observing and 
analyzing [teaching] but also under teacher contract the evaluation document 
doesn't give you a lot to go on either. . . . But anyway the administration changed, 
we had more training on evaluation and with one of the people that did the 
training I did speak with him the following year about the situation with one 
particular teacher. I also spoke with an assistant superintendent and then the 
superintendent. And that's when I felt, I guess I had the support as well as 
additional training that yes, I was doing the right thing. This was the right thing 
to do. 
With confidence gained from the training and the new central office support, 

Debra placed both teachers on improvement plans. Her efforts to have these teachers 

take performance improvement seriously paid off. Debra tells me both teachers "came 

off improvement plans this year." 


Now, with the opportunity to reflect on the experience, Debra reahzes that 

ahhough she fek a lack of confidence and support to effect change, she knew all along 

that she should. 

I think I always knew something had to be done even though I was second 
guessing myself, there's always that feeling that I can't be crazy - I'm not crazy - 
I didn't get here being crazy. So I knew and I also knew because I used to walk 
through the rooms and if they got the heads up that I was coming things were a 
little better. If they didn't get the heads up then I saw what I saw. . . .1 just knew, 
especially in one case, that h wasn't right. ... I guess I just always knew that I had 
to do something. . . . Even that first year when I say I chickened out, it never went 
away that I was totally wrong. 
Interestingly, even though she considers her decision to evaluate these teachers as 

"meefing expectations" "totally wrong," when asked if she had it to do over again, Debra 

tells me she would handle it "exactly the same way I did." 

No doubt in my mind. Not having that - that first year being new, not really 
knowing the system ... I didn't feel as though I had support. So I would have 
been the lone - that new person out on a limb, and what if I was wrong? Then 
what would I have done? I'm glad I waited because - for two reasons. One - 1 
ended up with support, which is what I was hoping for. And two, I knew that I 
also had the staffs support when I finally made the decision, and I don't know if I 
would have had the staffs support that first year. ... I think I would have 
crucified myself in the first year if you put it honestly. 


Although it was difficuh for Debra to back off from writing the evaluation she 
believed was necessary, she is not sorry that she did. Pragmatically, it allowed her to 
move forward the next year in a more effective way and from a position of confidence 
and strength. When I ask her if this experience influenced her leadership at all, she tells 
me that yes - it did. 

[It] has definitely influenced my leadership style because I learned to be patient. I 
learned to absorb - be sure I absorb everything before I make a decision. . . . I've 
learned to be a lot more patient in my decision making. I also learned to ask for 
help, to seek out other opinions as I do - I would say on a weekly basis with my 
colleagues. . . . Now I don't think I could do my job if I did not have the support 
system that I currently have, from the Superintendent right down to all of my 
colleagues in the principalship. 

John is an African American principal in a large suburban district west of Boston. 
This district has seen a noticeable increase in its immigrant population, resulting in an 
increase in students who are classified as English Language Learners (ELL). He has 
been a school principal for 19 years, the last nine in his current school. During his tenure, 
his school became the home of the district's elementary bilingual program, an event 
which doubled its size and created "language issues." He recalls two teachers in 
elementary school who made an impact on his life. As a child, he tells me he was 
"obese" and "shy" and one of his teachers convinced him to take up singing: 


It was much cooler being the singing fat kid than it was being the stubborn fat kid. 
So that got me thinking about education as a career. . . So then this music teacher 
got me interested in theater. And I figured, you know, if these two men could 
have that kind of impact on my life I wanted to be able to have [the same impact 
on others] and it led me into education. I never planned on being a principal. It 
just kind of happened. 

When asked about an ethical dilemma John has encountered in his principalship, 
he tells me two stories that end in his believing he had done the right thing. He also told 
me a third story where he felt he had not done the right thing, had made a bad decision, 
and, in fact, left the school shortly afterward. The following story highlights the 
difficulty John had as a new principal reprimanding a veteran teacher. 

John had suspected for some time that a teacher in his school was abusive toward 

...more on the borderline of Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde personality and I started paying 
attention to it and of course like I said I could never catch it. But what the hard 
part was not to have a [disciplinary] meeting partly because this person had just 
gotten over a very serious [illness]. 

Although this teacher was of an age to retire, she was not likely to. "She was way 
past her time but she had no life." John's dilemma became one of confronting this 
teacher with his suspicions about an abusive style of dealing with the students, which 
would certainly make her [and, he suspected, her colleagues] angry, or of "letting it go" 
and waiting for her to retire. As a veteran, she had alliances among the faculty, but it was 
the new teachers who complained to John about her. Unfortunately for John, it was 


stipulated in the teachers' contract that if a teacher received a complaint, he or she was 

entitled to know who had complained, and the complaining teachers were unwilling to 

come forward: 

The way the contract is set up in the system is that if there is anybody that accuses 
anybody of anything the person has a right to [know]. And to tell me I have to let 
the person know that you told me if you want me to do anything. Otherwise, 
you've got to tell the person. And you can take it out and deal with it that way or 
you can tell me information and I can't do anything more. You know, so that's 
another dilemma. Like I go to you and say "your teacher is causing a problem, I 
saw her hit somebody, but I don't want you to tell her I'm the one that told you." 
So now you've got this information and what do you do with it? So I had this 
circumstance and after and this went on for maybe a good couple of weeks, a 
month or more. 

This situation emerged in John's consciousness gradually. 

I had a sneaking suspicion; something didn't feel right, those intangibles. But I 
had this information from the street. There's that things aren't necessarily good in 
the class, not so much the teaching but the kids don't feel comfortable. 

Attempts by John to approach this teacher on specific infractions were met with what he 

felt were prepared responses: 

And the thing is there's almost too quick a response to them. It's like it was 
prepared in case somebody called her on it - you know, it wasn't one of those 
[situations] where they came back the day afterwards, two, three days later after 
thinking about it. She went back to you, and [would] say, "you tell me the person 


who says I'm doing this or none of this counts, or else I'm going to go against you 

for harassment. I'll put in a suit against you. 

Not only did John lack solid evidence against this teacher, he was also cognizant 

of the political power of the teacher's colleagues if they turned against him. This had 

happened to him in his former district, and was part of the reason why he'd left. John did 

not want to leave this school: 

You know, so my dilemma was do I err on the side of children and confront the 
teacher, or do I err on the side of the political nature of things and not do anything 
at all, knowing that people are watching me in the building. Knowing that 
everybody's waiting to see my decision; knowing that as an administrator your 
decisions are only as good as your last decision. You know, because what you 
did for somebody 10 decisions ago, they'll forget it ... 

John called the teacher in to confront her. He tells me it was just "to validate" what he 

had heard from others. 

It was just to validate. It was to have a conversation with her to see if she could, 
if what I heard was going to be validated or if it was going to be immediately 
dismissed. I assumed it was going to be dismissed. Even if it was true it was 
going to be dismissed. And so of course she stormed out of here in this office at 
dismissal and the whole building saw. 
John had confronted this teacher, had not achieved his purpose of validation, and 

was now being judged by what he felt was the whole school, given his experience with 

how quickly news travels in a school building: 


It's just how buildings have ears - they just breathe and share stuff. So that got to 

be a big brouhaha in the building. 

He found himself in the middle of a controversy: 

Everybody's just kind of, there were some that were upset at me because how 

could I do this to her after she's just gotten over this medical issue, she was trying 

to get back together. This particular dilemma grew into a school [issue]. It was no 

longer between me and her, it was between her - it was two factions of the staff 

and everybody watching me to see what I was going to do about it. 

John did not go to the superintendent with the issue, believing that "he [the 

superintendent] had other issues he was worried about," but he did go to an informal 

principal support network. ("We're all principals that were all vice principals together at 

the same time.") 

After going about a few meetings with this whole thing and once it got to be a 
school issue, it took probably about three weeks. I had to call her on it. And so 
basically I went to her and said regardless of what anybody's told me ... I'm 
telling you I have a sense - my feeling is that you're not being right to the kids 
because I have some examples of things that I've seen . . . yelling at kids . . . kind 
of pulling them along. Then, I've gotten the kind of support I needed from 
outside the school as well as my deciding that I'm not going to let this happen to 
the children. 
Having this teacher fired was out of the question - John's purpose in confronting 

her was simply because he couldn't not confi-ont her. To do nothing would be tacit 

approval of her behavior toward children. 


Well, I really couldn't fire her because she's a senior person, she's been in the 
system forever. I deah with it. ... If I'd decided not to do anything then I thought 
the children were going to be in harm. 

In a way, h was John's way of sending the message to his divided staff about his 
leadership priorities. There were two factions within the faculty - the new teachers who 
had joined the school when it "doubled" to host the bilingual program, and the veteran 
teachers who had been there long before the bilingual program - and John - had arrived. 
You know the [new] staff- they didn't really know her. They didn't care. They 
just saw - they believed what they saw was being unjust to the kids. I had the old 
staff that was on her side that didn't like me now, and the new staff that was on 
my side and said I was doing the right thing for the kids. And watched to see 
what I was doing. And there were some people in between. 
John knew what he had to do. The dilemma for him was the "potential political 

I was concerned what the word of mouth would be from the people in my 
building. ... It's got a whole political piece that I was concerned about. Plus, too, 
I had worked so hard to get back to [the district] and I didn't want to [endanger] 
that. . . . There's a lot of stuff and you know as well as I do that sometimes it isn't 
so much what happens it's the word of mouth about what happens. The only 
thing we have in this job is our reputation. Potentially there's a lot of political 
damage. There could have been a lot of political damage because of who she 
was. She wasn't just a regular teacher in the system. I mean she had clout and 
she knew how to play the system. 


When asked, John tells me that the virtue he prizes most is integrity. 

I believe that a person who is firm in their convictions and believe what they're 
saying, because they truly believe it, not because it's the whim of the moment, not 
the flavor of the day. I also [hate] white lies, every day that people make. Men 
are worse at it then women. It's bad to say that there's more men who would tell 
little white lies than women do. Integrity, honesty, and - 1 would say if there's 
going to be a third virtue, I would say probably a sense of caring and not 
necessarily about themselves, but caring about others. And I think that good 
educators carry all three of those virtues, and if they don't, they should. ... I think 
you need to be honest in your convictions of who you are. You can't be one kind 
of person with parents, a different kind of person with kids, a different kind of 
person with staff. That creates a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde kind of thing in the 
building and people start wondering which of the people am I speaking to now? 
So I believe in being right up front. I believe you've got to call it the way you see 

This case is different from the others in two important ways. First, the participant 
is known to me. In the interest of promoting candor, I made an early decision to 
interview only principals who are unknown to me. I feh that if they didn't know me, and 
I didn't know them, then they would be more likely to share their stories more openly. I 
felt the fear of judgment would be lessened somewhat. However, in talking to this retired 
principal on the telephone one day about the subject of my dissertation, I learned her 
story recounted here and felt it represented an interesting dilemma worthy of inclusion. 


Since she shared it with me over the telephone, I did not have an audio-taped account. 
Judy was willing to write her testimony via email. As a result, her story is presented here 
in a more organized form than the typical testimonials. Judy had time to think about how 
she wanted her story written, and could more carefully choose her words than my other 
participants. This is apparent in the language of the testimony. I did not have the 
opportunity to spontaneously probe for fiarther details, and the testimony is somewhat 
"thin" because of it. Nevertheless, I believe it elucidates the ethical dimension of the role 
of the principalship much in the same way that the other participants' stories do. 

Judy retired from her principalship in a small, suburban elementary school two 
years ago. She had been a teacher in a high performance district west of Boston, and then 
earned her Masters and Doctorate degrees, saying she "wanted to make a wider 
difference at a district level." She held many central office positions, involving staff and 
curriculum development for the entire K - 12 system, but gradually came to value the 
role of the school principal in implementing change: 

I realized the impact the principal made. In fact, things only worked well and 

were implemented if the principal supported the idea or process. I wanted to be in 

the position to make a direct impact on a school. 
Passed over for a principalship in her own town, Judy sought a position elsewhere. In 
spite of her advanced degrees and central office experience, it wasn't easy: 

Although I had many interviews and was a finalist in several towns, my not 

having previously been a principal was an impediment. 
Judy persevered and finally obtained the principalship in the school from which she 
retired eight years later. 


Before describing her difficult ethical moment, Judy provides the background: 
The previous principal had been there 1 8 years and avoided conflict whenever 
possible, I was told. The custodian had been there a number of years and was 
used to doing what he wanted. He was a large man, given to mood swings and 
sometimes refused to do certain assigned tasks. It came to the point where I 
would not be alone in the same room with him. [Judy is a very petite woman.] I 
was documenting his inconsistent job performance and rudeness in order to have 
enough evidence to remove him. The director of buildings and grounds [his co- 
supervisor] was working with me and supported the documentation. In fact, we 
both wrote letters to the custodian following meetings held and following 
incidents of reprimand. This was the third year with this custodian. 
One weekend, Judy received a phone call from the Director of Persormel: 

...a parent had contacted the Superintendent's office and accused that custodian 
of grabbing his daughter. I was told by the Director of Personnel to call the 
custodian and say he was on leave with pay pending investigation of a situation. 1 
could not say what the situation was to the custodian, since it might impact the 
investigation. It was my responsibility to investigate the situation and find out 
what happened. I called the father of the fifth grade girl to get information. The 
family was Egyptian, and the father was always disrespectful to me. He basically 
gave me no information other than his daughter came home and accused the 
custodian of grabbing her. He would not allow the daughter to talk to me and 
kept her home from school for several days. Additionally, the father of the girl 
said he planned to bring civil suit against the custodian in [nearby city's] court. 


Since the father of the girl would not allow Judy to interview her, Judy 
interviewed other children who had been in the cafeteria with her and may have seen the 

I had to keep the situation as confidential as possible. Therefore, I only talked to 
the Superintendent and Director of Personnel about it. I decided the following 
Monday to use open ended questions of students in grade five, since all had lunch 
together in the cafeteria. ... I did learn that someone saw the custodian pull the 
coat the girl had in her hands to tell her to put it on and go outside so he could 
clean the cafeteria. She was one of the last ones in the cafeteria. Evidently, the 
girl did go outside and played and did not say anything to anyone at school. 
When she got home, she told her father the custodian grabbed her. . . .1 reported 
my results the next day to the Superintendent and said I would try to call the 
father and tell him what my investigation found. I also spoke to the attorney for 
the district, who said that technically grabbing the coat was grabbing the child. 
However, I thought it was worth trying to talk the father out of filing a civil suit. 
Somehow, I was successful. 

Given the problems this custodian had caused Judy in the past, this could be seen 
as a charitable act. If Judy did nothing, and the custodian was found guilty in court of 
abusing this girl's civil rights, that would be compelling evidence in favor of dismissal. 
After speaking with the father, things took an interesting turn: 

After I explained what I found, the father decided to meet with the custodian on 
his own [outside of school] for drinks. [!] The father said he would not file a suit 
against the custodian. I had no other communication with the custodian and do 


not really know what the child's father said to him or who told him what the 

accusations were. 

In the end, the custodian kept his job, but received a letter of reprimand from Judy 

for his actions with the girl. Judy believes the custodian did not appreciate her 

intervention with the father: 

I don't think the custodian appreciated how hard I worked to save him from a 

civil suit and only resented his being on leave during the three days [with pay] of 


In describing the alternatives Judy considered, she reveals her primary 


I could investigate and not get enough information to make a definite statement 
about what happened. Then, there would have had to be a more formal 
investigation by attorneys or people outside the school system. This might then 
have become a public situation [newspaper, etc] in court and hurt the school, 
school system and community. 
Even if her investigation revealed enough incriminating evidence, there would 

still be a need to take the situafion to a level that would compromise the school: 

. . . then a hearing and action would need to be taken. The outcome would be 
uncertain, since many more players would be involved. The custodian would 
have been dismissed with good cause. However, it would be a negative situation 
for the children, parents, school, school system and the community. 

Judy's third option, as she saw it, involved the possibility that the custodian was not 

guilty of the accusation: 


I could thoroughly investigate and do all I could toward clearing the custodian if 
he had not grabbed the girl. Then, the situation could be kept confidential, 
benefiting all parties. 

Judy did investigate as thoroughly as she was able to. Although the truth wasn't 
as damning as the accusation initially sounded, there was still wrongdoing on the part of 
the custodian toward a student in her school. The vulnerability of a child being on the 
receiving end of this large custodian's anger, manifested in his physical action, made the 
situation particularly egregious. This was a man with which the principal herself was 
afraid to be alone. Judy's final option - and the one she eventually carried out - was to 
find out the truth, tell the parent the truth, and try to persuade the parent to not seek 
outside retribution, preferring to handle the matter in house and save the school from 
negative publicity. 

At first glance, purposefially trying to keep the situation away from the media 
could be interpreted as a self-serving action. However, Judy knew that a media trial 
would have negative consequences on her school community and would compromise the 
trust that the parents and the children had in their school as a safe place. In a way, sitting 
back and doing nothing would have been in Judy's best interest - after all, she had been 
trying to get this custodian dismissed for some time. 

I stood to gain, since he was a thorn in my side. . . . Part of me really wanted him 
to be guilty, so I could have him dismissed. If 1 found he had grabbed the girl, I 
would have taken all the steps necessary, despite the negative publicity. 
Judy also allowed for the possibility that the man wasn't guilty, in spite of her dislike for 


. . .1 worked hard to keep an open mind about what the custodian had done, 
although I inhially beUeved it was possible the custodian had done something. 
Since there had never been other incidents reported about children [his negative 
behaviors were directed to the principal and certain teachers], I questioned the 

In spite of her dislike for the custodian, Judy did not believe that grabbing the coat was 

just cause for a civil suit: 

... I did not think he should be brought to civil court for grabbing the coat. If we 
could have dismissed him for grabbing the girls' coat while it was in her arms, I 
would have liked to do that. However, I knew that was not fair, so I did not press 
for that. 

Upon reflection, Judy clarifies her priority at the time: 

I think I acted ethically throughout the process, although I had moments when I 

thought about letting the guy take the fall. I still ask myself why I tried so hard to 

get the father to drop the civil charges. I think it was because I saw the incident 

as a reflection of my school and my leadership and did not want this to become 


The custodian wound up coming back to work, only to continue in his poor 

performance and bad behavior. He claimed a mental breakdown and was let go with a 

settlement from the district. Judy was pleased with her ability to keep the matter 


I was glad that I was good at investigating and was able to keep the situation 
confidential. I was also proud that I was able to convince the father to drop the 


charges and keep the situation confidential. I never heard about the incident fi-om 
anyone. Despite my wanting to get the custodian dismissed, I could not do it 

When asked whether or how this experience influenced Judy's leadership in the 
aftermath, she tells me that, in retrospect, she wishes she had confided in others in order 
to gain support and help: 

It was one more experience that confirmed the challenges of being a principal in a 
small school where I had to handle a difficult situation in confidence and on my 
own, essentially. I wish I had developed the network of colleagues and friends I 
could have confided in at that time [which I later had]. I was part of [a 
professional] principal support group, but the timing was not in line for that 
monthly meeting. I could have confided there and received confidential help. I 
took things too literally at that time about legal confidentiality and did not turn to 
anyone else for help. If that happened today, I would call friends who were 
principals and get advice. 

Student discipline 
I mean I don't take much of this home with me but I'm always processing stuff, 
sometimes subconsciously. And I'm never sure that what I'm doing is right. 

- Susan 
Principals have a responsibility to shape student behavior in their schools. They 
also have a responsibility to see that consequences are just and effective when students 
break the rules. Disrespectful behavior toward teachers, bullying behavior toward 
vulnerable students - these phenomena can have an adverse effect on school culture, (cite 


effective school research here), interfere with student learning, and altogether 
compromise feelings of well-being for members of a school community. Sam's and 
Susan's dilemmas both involve meting out appropriate justice for student misbehavior. 
Their two stories, however, are very different from one another in the personal 
motivations that influenced the decision. 

Sam is an elementary school principal in a wealthy suburb of Boston. He has 
recently arrived via the public school system of Los Angeles. Having grown up in 
Massachusetts, he decided to move with his wife and toddler back to New England to 
continue his career closer to home and family. He is outgoing and friendly, using my 
name frequently while telling me his story. Pictures adorn his office door of the 
schoolwide celebration of his birthday - he is pictured receiving balloons and standing in 
a circle of staff members. The story he chooses to share with me when I ask him about 
tough decisions in his principalship involves an extreme disciplinary incident when he 
was an elementary school principal in Los Angeles. Four students - three male fourth 
graders and one female fifth grader - had destroyed a car in the neighborhood of the 

I went to look at the car, and Jennifer I was shocked at what I saw. I don't mean 
vandalized as in throw a rock. They literally - baseball bat to the windows, 
stomped on the roof, crushed h in, because they were walking home from school 
and they saw it. And thought it'd be a cool thing to do. They hit it with rocks the 
first day, and then they got greedy and got a bat the second day, by the third day 
all four of them were on top of the roof smashing it in. 


After seeing the car, Sam knew that he had to respond, and he knew that his 
response would have to involve the police. That, in and of itself, was not problematic for 
Sam, as it was the school district policy to involve the police when a crime was 
committed. Although this incident took place outside of school property, it happened 
while the children were walking home from school, and that made it Sam's problem. 

. . .in California, I'm pretty sure it's the same around here, we're responsible for 
the child from the time they leave their front door, all day, to school. This was the 
key in LA, was at 3:00 [going] home till they get to their front door. 
Sam wished to perform his own investigation prior to police intervention: 
So the next morning I called the school resource officer to let him know about the 
incident but I had to investigate it at the site level prior to letting the police in. 
Because once the police get involved, once the police walk into the office in LA, 
they take over. So, I have to be an observer. I can't be asking questions and I 
can't ask questions with the police officer there, so I know to get as much 
information that I can get ahead of time for my internal investigation for the 
school issue. The law issue, once they come in, they take over. 
Sam saw his duty as school principal differently than that of the police officer and 
the judicial system. He was in charge of "the school issue," where the police were in 
charge of "the law issue." 

In performing his own investigation, Sam discovered the identities of the four 

When the neighbor came and saw the car was vandalized and she thinks she 
knows who did it, based on the witnesses. Fifty kids saw it. ... In this case, the 


lady came down and she gave me the names because she had already talked to the 
kids in the neighborhood who squealed. It was hard getting it out of some of the 
kids because those three boys and the fifth grade girl [were] the leaders of the 
fourth grade. They'll bully all the other kids. But, when you bring them 
individually, brought them in one by one you play them off each other. . . . And 
they did, they finally admitted exactly what happened. 

This is where the ethical dilemma set in for Sam. He knew the four children well. The 

three boys had been in trouble before. The girl had not. 

Called the kids down, four kids, one of them never been in my office, sweetheart, 
was a girl. Three boys, been in my office numerous times. 
Sam articulated the nature of the dilemma for him: 

Then the dilemma was, okay, first of all I have to bring in the school resources 
officer. In the irmer city, that's the way of life. That is not in [current district]. 
Never. But it's a way of life. Call them, bring them in. And the dilemma was 
this child is going to have this on her record. And she made a mistake. How do 
you balance between the three boys, one with already a juvenile record, two 
others going that way no doubt about it, and how can you say get her off without 
having her facing the same consequences? 

Although he knew that he would have to inform the police, Sam knew that his report to 

the police could be shaped to influence the outcome for the children. He had the morning 

to consider his report: 

The law issue, once they come in they take over. So I did that. I told him to 
come over at lunch time. And, the question was, going back to the girl. She was 


involved. She did admit that she did damage to the car. But the other boys were 
the main culprits, we'll say. So what do we decide to do? 

When I ask Sam about alternatives considered, his reply is immediate. 

Let the girl slide, absolutely. ... I knew from past experiences, once the police 
officer gets involved, I can turn to him and say here's three names, here's four 
names. And, knowing that, the possibility is that they can write a citation right 
there, which is recorded. In this case they could arrest, and take off campus, all 
four of them. They could take off one. There's whole different scenarios that I 
thought could happen. 

That morning, Sam shared his dilemma with several others: 

What I did was I talked to my counselor who's counsel/special projects, which is 
your right hand person. And you know, you start talking to the office staff who 
know, they know the kids. This is my dilemma. I let other people have input into 
it. I can't make a decision without hearing what other people who have an active 
voice in a child's educational career. But, because of course, the teacher knows 
she's a good kid, she made a mistake, is that the end of it? So once we get that 
kind of information, I take a long time to make that decision because I want to not 
rush to judgment. 

Nevertheless, the police officer would be at the school at noon, and Sam had a duty to 

provide names. He decided to give all four. 

Do I give him four names and say, hey listen, this girl was involved but she 
wasn't the main thing? And that's what I did. 


Sam rationalized his decision based on several principles. He was concerned for 

the safety of the girl if she was seen to receive special treatment: 

. . .for these three boys who have been in my office numerous times, that if I let 
her go, first of all she lives in the neighborhood. You never know if these kids are 
coming back to your school in LA. They can go to another; they can go to 
community school, with the option of coming back to your school. And as fourth 
grade boys, they were going to come back at some point. 

Sam also believed that there must be consistency in consequences for the same behavior: 
So, once I heard from her that she definitely smashed the car, 1 felt at that point 
that it's got to be consistent, and as an administrator if you're not consistent in 
anj^hing you do, you can't build that trust. And people will say "Oh, he'll back 
or do for one group but he won't do for another." . . . But I've got to save face for 
myself, with the kids. Even though these kids are going the wrong way, what if 
that girl is back in school Monday with one hundred fifty other fifth graders who 
knew she was involved? It wasn't something that, even if we could keep it quiet, 
it wasn't. Gossip spreads that kind of stuff. Oh lookit, lookit, she got away with 
Consistency is a valued attribute that comes up in Sam's testimony frequently. In 

talking in general about consequences for fighting: 

And the parents have said, well my kid hits that kid he should sock him back. 
The difference is if I only just suspended one there because he was the antagonist, 
but the other kid, he did hit back, if I let that kid back into the population that 
afternoon or the next day, what is that telling the other kids? For me, I have to be 


consistent, and it's worked great. Even though you've got to deal with those 
parents screaming, yelling, doing all of that stuff, but it's that consistency in 
knowing that I have to look at 850 kids, they're safe. 

Interestingly, the neighbor whose car had been vandalized did not press Sam to 
notify the police. That made his decision-making a little more complicated, because it 
allowed for the possibility of handling it on his own with just a school suspension: 

But do I turn my back on that and say, they vandalized a car, here's a three day 
suspension, I'll see you back next Thursday? Especially with the neighbor, who 
is not pushing it. She wasn't looking for money; she was just making me aware 
of it. And I could have said, "Okay, thank you for the information" end of day. 
But that's not teaching kids, especially elementary kids, what's right and wrong. 
You can't vandalize someone's property and think it's no big deal. 
The idea that people (as well as himself) would view him as inconsistent in his 
decision-making was intolerable to Sam. In the end, he was most influenced by the need 
to be (and seen by others to be) consistent in meting out punishment for similarly 
egregious behavior. His decision to include the girl in his report to the police, however, 
left him feeling disturbed about what would happen to the girl, as well as the three boys. 
A ten year old that's going to go to juvenile hall on a Friday, knowing that they 
might not get out for the weekend, those are the - what I didn't put in was it was a 
Friday when they were taken off campus. Knowing what could happen to them, 
what they were going to experience and be aware of, if their parents don't get to 
the local police station in time, because they are juveniles. They go to Juvy in LA 
and are at the boot camp for the weekend. And I knew that. . . . These kids made a 


mistake vandalizing; they could be in with kids that are older, violent. It's LA, it 
is South Central LA. This is, you know, life or death. 
Sam was also disturbed by the fact that these children would now have a police record: 

. . .it's now going to be on their record until they're eighteen. 
However, Sam was also influenced by his experience as a Middle School principal, 
dealing with troublesome students whose records did not reflect the severity of their 

As a Middle School principal - my experience there - we have a lot of kids that 
are middle school who've had incidents and in their cume [cumulative record] 
from elementary, that should have police records. Should have police activity 
involved and there weren't [in the file]. And principals let them get by, and just 
dealt with it internally. And now we're at Middle School where we have a gang 
banging kid who brings weapons to school, or violent in classes, and does all 
these things. And when it comes to their record, their juvy record, there's nothing 
in it. ... And then they're in eighth grade or sixth grade or seventh grade and the 
officer says this is their first incident. 

Speaking in Nash's Second Language of Moral Character, Sam revealed how 
important it is to him that he act (and be seen by others to act) with trustworthiness. "The 
paradigmatic Second Language question to ask is not only, 'Is this the right thing to do?" 
but ' Which decision has the most integrity in terms of the kind of person I either perceive 
myself to be or am striving to become?'' (Nash, 2002, p. 63) In responding to a question 
regarding a simple, factual event, Sam seized the opportunity to tell me about what he 
believes is the quintessential virtue for a school principal. 


Q: How did you find out about this situation? 

The one thing as a principal, the kids need to trust. If they trust you as a principal, 
and in California it's life or death. . . . If a kid trusts you and they'll tell you 
something, they know their name would never be used again. Ever. And I lay it 
out on the table and I'll say if you were the child who was a snitch, Jennifer, this 
infarmation is between you and I. When I call in those other kids your name 
would never get brought up, I promise you that. Takes time to do that. In Middle 
School it took the kids a whole year to know who I was. . . . Those type of things. 
It's building that trust, them to know that they can tell . . . 

For Sam, "the right thing" seems borne of a mostly utilitarian moral belief system. 
That is, what decision will ultimately serve the needs of the whole school? He worried 
about the girl's safety as she spent the weekend in jail, and tried to mitigate her 
consequences as best he could within the parameters of the situation: 

Do I give him [the policeman] four names and say, hey listen, this girl was 
involved but she wasn't the main thing? And that's what I did. 
Omitting the girl's name from his report, however Sam may have been attracted 
to the idea, was not really a viable option for him. He came back to his unshakeable need 
to be (and appear) trustworthy. He believes consistency is an important component of 

So, once I heard from her that she definitely smashed the car, I felt at that point 
that it's got to be consistent, and as an administrator if you 're not consistent in 
anything you do, you can 't build that trust. And people will say Oh, he'll back or 
do for one group, but he won't do for another. 


. . .For me, I have to be consistent. 

Sam used the metaphor "saving face" several times in our interview. This tells me that 

he not only feels the need to be consistent and trustworthy, but that it's important to him 

that he appear that way publicly: 

So yes, I had the influence. But I've got to save face for myself with the kids. 
Even though these kids are going the wrong way, what if that girl was back in 
school Monday with 1 50 other fifth graders who knew she was involved? Wasn't 
something that, even if we could keep it quiet, it wasn't. Gossip spreads that kind 
of stuff 

In the end, Sam is still disturbed by the idea that his decision-making may have harmed 

the four children: 

Because they're kids, they're ten, eleven year old kids. It's not that, oh, I did the 
right thing. I mean, yes, I know I did the right thing. How do I describe it? I sent 
those kids away. That's not what I wanted to do. That's not. You can't have 
personal, personal feelings can't get involved in a decision like that with four 
kids. It's just - how can you? ... It would drive my whole weekend into did I do 
the right thing for each individual as a whole? Did I think about the girl? I still 
do because I'm talking about it today and that was three years ago. 

Susan came to the principalship after having several other roles in education. She 
has been a special education teacher, a library media specialist, and a teacher overseas. 


taking some time off to raise her son. She earned a Ph.D. and taught in two different 
universities. Being a professor was not rewarding to her, however. 

I hated being a professor. I really hated the pace of it. I hated the bureaucracy. I 
hated the powerlessness that I felt to do anything. And the things that I valued 
weren't rewarded in terms of tenure. And the things that I was less interested in 

Susan tells me about her decision to become a school principal: 
But the decision that got me to change my mind about becoming a principal had 
to do with the fact that as a professor and also during my Ph.D work I spent a lot 
of time in school supervising student teachers. And so I got to see the role that 
principals played in making a school what it was. And so that their priorities 
would be translated into the priorities of the school. And I never saw that sense of 
- not that I'm looking for power, but that sense of power in terms of shaping 

She went to school in the summer to earn her principalship licensure, which 
resulted in a position in a K - 8 school in a large urban district earlier than she had 
planned. "So I got licensed in June and just out of nowhere this job came along." 

Susan has been a principal now for just three months. When I ask her to tell me 
about an ethical dilemma she has faced in her short time there, she tells me how difficult 
h has been to get students with special needs included in regular education classes. The 
teachers have been resistant, to the point where the special education teachers began a 
rumor that they were going to be let go and a grade level team of six teachers complained 
to the union about it. She was disappointed in the lack of trust displayed by the teachers, 


because she wanted them to perceive her as being approachable. However, I soon 
reahzed that this didn't fall under my definition of ethical dilemma because she knew 
very well what she wanted to do - she experienced no inner conflict about what was the 
"right thing" - it was just a matter of difficulty getting others to accept it. 

She tells me about another dilemma she faced early on involving a disciplinary 
incident. Here, she admits not knowing what to do: "I had to make a decision, and I was 
back and forth, back and forth." She implies her story is typical: 

I mean - this happens a lot of times. As you can well imagine I have to make a 
decision whether to suspend, whether to keep it at school, whether to do this, 
whether to do that. It's always a judgment call. 

At first, she expresses frustration that there are no written guidelines for her 
school that everyone knows about: 

For one thing, why is it a judgment call? It's that this school has . . . nothing 
written down. So kids and parents really didn't have ...[breaks off). 
Susan then admits that written guidelines mighi not be helpful to her: 
So I am always back and forth. I think even with written rules. A lot of things 
are still going to be a judgment call. 
She received a phone call one morning from a distraught parent: 

I had an incident where a kid - a couple of kids - played a practical joke on 
another kid. And how I found out about it was a call from a crying mother, the 
kid who had had the joke played on who was crying. The joke was they claimed 
to have put an ex-lax pill in his soda and let him drink it. Well I was furious. 


Susan was especially angry because the victim of this prank was an anxious child to 

begin with, and Susan knew the boy and his mother: 

And this was a kid who has identified himself to me and the mother has come and 
met with me. Who is anxious - on anxiety medicine. 

After receiving the call, she called in the accused boys: 

So I called the kids in and they - surprisingly - they admitted to it and identified 
the kid who did it. And I was ftirious. I was so angry. ... I was furious and I said 
you know this is a clear case of bullying. ... [The accused] said "We've known 
each other since Kindergarten, we hang out on weekends, and [he said] last 
weekend he [the current victim] played a really bad joke." And so, that changed 
the whole thing to some degree. 

Learning that the boys were friends who played together on the weekends, who 
were equally guilty of playing practical jokes on one another, put the incident in a new 
perspective for Susan. She no longer saw a case of bullying. 

And so I called all the other boys in, including the victim of all of this, and it felt 
to me like that was the story. And as friends they talked it out. 'Well, you know 
it went too far and why didn't you . . . ' this is the victim being able to say this to 
his friends. 

With this altered perspective, Susan's response was now not so obvious to her. 
What should the appropriate consequence be? 

And so I had to decide. I mean, I came in that morning and this kid was gone. I 
was just so furious and as the story unfolded it was kind of like do I make this 
more than it is? So I ended up - I gave them all - I gave them all - they lost their 


break. They have at break at 10:00 and they have to come down here at break. 
It's not a big punishment but they are without their peers and whatever. 

This lessened punishment was not popular with the teachers: 

So of course I got pushed back from the teachers. "You didn't suspend him" and 
you know, I explained as much as I could the whole story and I was like it isn 't 
what it seemed - it isn 't what it seemed. 

Susan reflects on the difficulty of her decision: 

This is where I'm saying about preparing people to become principals. I had to 
take a stance pretty quickly. And I had to make a decision and I was back and 
forth and back and forth. . . . And I knew it wouldn't be popular with the teachers 
because already they're adjusting to my style which is very different from the 
other [former] principal. 
Susan reveals what she learned early on in her principalship, partly as a result of 

this episode: 

In the first month of school I learned that I need to move slow in terms of - 
slowly in terms of making a decision. For example, in this case, I called the 
mother back with the child. The child talked, just the child and I were here 
. . .And you know, here's a mother who was crying on the phone the day before 
about how horrible the trick [was that] the kids played. She's fine with it, she's 
talking to her son, everybody's fine with it you know. So I learned not to jump at 
the first story, which is always a horrible story and often delivered by parents who 
either don't know the whole story or don't want to know the whole story. 


Perhaps remembering the reason for my visit, Susan wraps up the story in terms 
of the ethical dilemma: 

And so I learned that lesson really quickly ... and I do think in that case the 
ethical dilemma was they needed to have some consequence and the obvious 
consequence that people outside looking in would look at is they needed to be 
suspended. And I just didn't see that. 

Susan's statement "I am always back and forth. I think even with written rules. 
A lot of things are still always going to be a judgment call" is consistent with a 
situationalist's view of morality. Initially furious with the boys for what looked like 
cruelty toward an already anxious classmate, Susan saw the incident differently upon 
hearing mitigating circumstances. She expected the teachers wouldn't agree, and they 
didn't, but she still tried to tell them "It isn't what h seemed. It isn't what it seemed." 
She agrees being seen as "tough" would not be a bad thing - especially for a new 
principal - but she was true to her preferred style of dealing with discipline: 

I knew it wouldn't be a popular decision with the teachers because already they're 
adjusting to my style which is very different from the other principal [who] was a 
man, big, blustery, all talk no action to be quite honest, and the kids knew that. 
And my style is more conversive, let's get to the bottom of this, how are we going 
to plan so this doesn't happen again. 

For Susan, the outcome was positive because the boys were talking honestly with 
one another about how things had gone "too far," and they ended up friends again. She is 
not worried about the other teachers' impression of her at this point: 


You would have seen me as tough, yeah, but I think people who have worked 
with me and seen me working with kids know that I can be tough when I have to 
be . . . everybody's adjusting to the fact that I'm different. 

Susan further reveals her situationalist/subjectivist viewpoint when she responds 
to my question about how she developed her sense of what should be done, what the right 
thing is: 

I'm not sure I have a sense. I have - and I think if somebody thinks they have I 
think that's pretty dangerous. I think if people think they know what to do, I think 
that's dangerous because I think what you end up doing is always a perspective 
and a judgment call. And I've had to - I've had to actually go up to students and 
change my stance. 

In order to illustrate this belief, Susan tells the story of a time when a student was 
sent to her office for arguing with a teacher about the classification of a tsunami. She 
admits that she acted "in an effort to show who was boss" and "lit into him in the office, 
[saying] 'How dare you!' and 'Question the teacher!' and all that." At home later that 
night, however, she realized the boy was right and that he was being observant, not 

So I went up to the kid, I actually pulled him out of class and talked to him in the 

hallway . . . 

Susan is reflective in her role and in her decision-making: 

I mean I don't take much of this home with me but I'm always processing stuff, 

sometimes subconsciously. And I'm never sure that what I'm doing is right. I 

have a sense of justice, social justice, and I have a sense of my role being to make 


sure that kids who can't take care of themselves, for one reason - race, class, 
gender - can't speak for themselves or can't defend themselves, that it's my job to 
make sure that they have a fair shake. But I'm not sure I always do that, always, 
on a case by case basis. 

Unlike Sam, Susan was unconcerned about the staffs response. She trusted they 
would, in time, come to understand her form of decision-making. 

Subverting the self 
At moments I felt that I was being false . . . 
These last two stories are about two very different situations. They are unrelated 
in content, but they illustrate the dilemma a principal feels when she is called on to betray 
her personal feelings to fulfill a professional, public duty. The first story - Denise's - 
tells about this principal's duty to reassure the school community that she supported a 
superintendent's decision regarding reduction in staff, even though she felt strongly 
against it. The second - Paula's - is the story of a school principal who had to 
(disingenuously, she felt) speak publicly about a student who had recently died as if she 
knew him well. 

Denise, a recently retired principal, met me at her house on Cape Cod toward the 
end of summer. Having been in education for over 30 years, her professional background 
was varied and rich, beginning as a first grade teacher in an urban district close to Boston. 
She spoke with enthusiasm about these early teaching years: 


... I loved it. Worked with great people. We were all still engaged in our 

learning because we were going for our Masters and lots of people my age. And 

women administrators. ... we adopted a reading and language program that was 

not textbook based but teacher decision driven and just lots of exciting things 


Denise eventually went into administration, becoming an Elementary Curriculum 
Coordinator for the district. About this time a large university in the city began to study 
Denise' s district in order to take over its management. Denise was impressed with the 

She was the first woman superintendent I had worked for. She was also the first 

superintendent that I ever worked for that I perceived worked harder than I did. 

. . . She was only there for two years, but that's when I started thinking that I 

wanted to be a principal. 

Denise earned her certification for the principaiship and eventually left the urban 
district where she began her career. She became principal of a K - 4 elementary school 
in a very small but wealthy district north of Boston. She enjoyed a mentoring 
relationship with the principal of the other elementary school in town. 

He was wonderful - loved working with him - he was a great mentor for my first 

year. Actually my second year too. 
When this colleague left the district, he was replaced by a woman with whom Denise did 
not share ideology: 


She was one of those people that thought teachers needed to be whipped into 
shape ... we got along because we forced ourselves to get along but she wasn't 
someone that I could really confide in or talk things over too much. 
Although at this point Denise had worked with "a bunch of principals there and a 

bunch of superintendents," she recalls one superintendent vividly: 

The new superintendent they hired - he made some decisions - he eliminated the 
reading and language arts - I'm trying to think of what they were called but it was 
at the elementary level curriculum wide. We had one person that we worked with 
for language arts and social studies and one person for science and math. . . . And 
I didn't agree with that [the elimination of the position] and 1 just was constantly 
put in between him and the teachers and the parents who didn't agree with it. 
And then later on, I think it was even the next year, he started eliminating 
guidance counselors, like at that time we had fiiU time guidance counselors. So I 
started looking other places . . . '^ 
Denise found a new principalship in another small tovm on the North Shore and 

finished her career there, retiring two months before I met her. In contrast to the 

enthusiasm she emitted when talking about her early teaching and administrative career, 

her tone is distinctly weary: 

Then I retired from there after seven years and actually was sort of glad to retire 
because I really think my first year of being a principal was almost the first year 

'■' As Denise makes this rather startling announcement, I suddenly recall a conversation we had when I first 
entered her house. One of her introductory statements was something like "When I didn't like what was 
going on in my district I just left!" Her cheery tone of voice as she said this distracted me from the 
significance of the statement. In 2007, after 25 years of Proposition 2 and 'A budget cuts, it seems unreal to 
me that a town with two elementary schools would have two elementary level curriculum coordinators at 


of the ed reform when everything started changing. ... I don't know if I would 

have wanted to stay there much longer. 

When I ask Denise (somewhat densely, since she had just given me her story) to 

tell me about a difficult situation encountered in her principalship, she goes back to the 

Superintendent that caused her to leave: 

I know my difficult times in [district] were sort of over the priorities that the 
superintendent had as opposed to what we had at the elementary school. 

Denise describes in detail the work that the Language Arts Coordinator had been doing: 
I do think it was the hardest [accepting the elimation of the position], I think for a 
lot of reasons. One, I don't think he understood what she did, the woman. And 1 
saw that she could work with teachers that needed work. . . . But we all need to try 
new things and learn new things and that was what this coordinator was so good 
at is she knew teachers. She had a program where she would work with them in 
their classrooms for periods of time and not spotty but she worked with somebody 
for a week or maybe in a school for a week. She got grants - we were starting to 
do student portfolios at the time so she was helping with that. And I don't know - 
he didn't see it. And so, I guess I felt that she was support for me as well as the 

In addition to losing this valuable support, Denise was put in the awkward position of 

dealing with the backlash over the coordinator's dismissal: 

And besides the educational purposes there were other emotional things going on 
too that I had to control and even avoid sometimes because she would be so 
angry. . . . She would talk to me about it and other teachers too would want to talk 


to me about it because they cared, they wanted that position to remain. ... I thinlc 
there were times when I really feh they [the teachers] wondered where I stood on 
it or if I really - in my conversations they knew I stood for keeping the position. 
But I think they wondered if when I went to Administrative Council, was I 
supportive of it or - 1 think they questioned that. 

In addition to the curriculum coordinators, this superintendent also reduced the 

elementary level guidance counselors. Denise was equally dismayed to see them go. 

... I just sort of thought - oh the finance committee told him he had to do this. . . . 
They were like social workers kinds of guidance counselors. I mean certainly in 
the six years there they became more serious but then add another seven [in her 
last district] and you know much more serious than they were 1 3 years ago. And 
you know the next year he was cutting those back to half time, and he had been a 
guidance counselor. And so I just always thought that he was some fluffy little 
guidance counselor that didn't work very hard and he didn't think other people 
did either. And by that time I had three terrific guidance counselors that I had 
worked with. 

In addition to dealing with her staff, Denise was also called upon to defend the action to 

her parent community: 

I can remember one meeting where I think the parents had actually called it or 
maybe he agreed to have it. ... And you know the meeting was in my school and 
a parent asked - he was explaining how this was going to be fine. And a parent 
asked me. And so here I am in public being asked, you know, how I felt and I did 
say I think there's the need for the full time guidance counselor . . . And but then I 


couched it in - but Dr. [superintendent] has to make hard choices or whatever and 
we'll do - we'll work hard to meet the needs of the kids no matter what. 
Denise characterizes these reductions in staff as "stripping away the elementary 
program." The situation weighed heavily on her. 

I know there were Administrative Council meetings where I'd practically just be 
in tears. I kept Rolaids in the drawer of my desk - you know, that kind of stuff 
I asked Denise if her dilemma was in terms of her responsibility to support the 
administration and to support the system publicly and within her school while still being 
true to her beliefs about the needs of the school. 

Mmmhh. [nods] That was it. And you know - he's the boss. He's the one 
they've hired as the Superintendent. He's not going to leave. Nothing I do is 
going to make him leave. So that's when I started applying for other jobs. 
I asked Denise if people knew she was leaving because she was dissatisfied with the 
superintendent's decision-making. She replies, "And having to be in that middle 

Paula is the principal of a school in a fairly affluent town west of Boston. She has 
been principal of this school for eight years - the first one since it opened. Opening a 
new school is an attractive prospect for a school principal, as it provides the rare 
opportunity to staff it entirely with people of the principal's own choosing. It also 
presents several challenges, one of which is that the staff has not worked together before. 
Paula introduces herself in this way: 


school - it's a brand new school. It's a brand new configuration. So the teachers 

that this school opened with had not worked together before. I'm just giving you 

a look backwards, but this was my first principalship. And because it's been such 

a wonderfijl and successful experience for me I have no intention of going 


An art major in undergraduate school in the late 1960s, Paula decided to forgo her 

plan to be an artist and go into teaching: 

And it was the 60-70s social upheaval times and 1 felt like I really needed to do 
something more, I don't know, relevant and public service oriented and so I went 
back and got my Master's Degree one year after I graduated in Special Education 
and Rehab. So I was a newly married woman living in Boston and going to 
graduate school. 

Paula went on to work as a special education teacher in two wealthy communities until 

she was offered a new opportunity: 

. . .to run a clinic that evaluated children for learning problems in a 
multidisciplinary context within the Department of Pediatrics. So it was a rare 
opportunity and I wasn't having that much fun in public education at the time - it 
was 1 980 or 76 - can't remember, but it was when everybody was getting riffed 
[laid off due to insufficient funds] and people were losing their jobs. 

She stayed in this clinical posifion for 15 years. This was a crucial learning experience 

for her: 


I learned so much in so many ways there - about child development, about 
learning, but most of all I learned how to operate with the big boys. Which was 
something in public education, at least at that time, you really didn't get. I did a 
lot of research, I presented a lot, I consuhed to school systems all over the 
country. And it just gave me an added layer of experience and I think then 
confidence that I never would have had if I stayed in public education as a 

Paula divorced her first husband "in the midst of all those years of teaching" but 
then remarried and had her son. 

And that's the point at which I was still at UMass working. I decided that I 
wanted to go back into the public schools and bring what I had learned about 
children to the public schools. 
She became an "inclusion specialist." In this district that meant traveling to five different 
schools to provide guidance and training to staff in including student with disabilities in 
regular education programs. This position piqued her interest in the role of the school 

. . .it was an impossible job. It was just - 1 mean I knew a lot and I had a lot to 
share, I just didn't have the hours of the day or physical ability to be where I 
needed to be all of the time. And while I was there I really looked at what the 
principal's role was in the school and how critical it was to making sure the 
children with special needs were getting, you know, equal access. And also to 
just lead a community of educators and a community of learners and so at that 
point, two years into that job, I went to MESPA, Massachusetts Elementary 


School Principals Association, the principal's licensure program, and that was 


It didn't take Paula long to obtain her first principalship: 

And so I got out of that program and a year later got my first position here. It was 

the first place I interviewed. They took a real chance in hiring me but it was the 

right match. It was, and it's been great. I can't believe eight years have gone by 

in many ways because it's been so much fun and it's been so rewarding 

professionally. And I just love my faculty who work so hard at being a thriving 

community and they are all on the same page together along with me on how to 

keep it alive. 

The position, however, has had it's downside for Paula personally. She is candid about 

the impact her job has had on her personal life: 

The personal life, however. And the only reason I'm mentioning it is that I think 
a little bit of my job had something to do with it [her divorce]. Not completely, 
but I think I loved what I was doing so much and I also think I was, for the first 
time, so successful at something and really feeling good - how good it feels to be 
successful at something, that I think it did have an impact on our relationship [her 
second husband's]. My husband wasn't doing as well as I was doing, 
unfortunately, professionally, so I think that was one of the factors. I also gained 
25 pounds, haven't lost it, lost a little but not a lot. So that's where I am. 
When I ask Paula to tell me about her ethical dilemma, she is equally candid 

about how she feels she must respond: 


While there have been many difficuh decisions, the way I interpreted your request 
for ethical dilemmas, because they seemed pretty clear to me about what the right 
thing to do was - they didn't feel like ethical dilemmas. They might have been 
ethical questions but I wasn't torn. 

When I ask Paula to not feel bound by any definition, she first acknowledges what I have 

learned concerns so many other principals: 

I would have to say most of my difficult decisions have been around personnel. 
I'm sure that's what you'll hear from most principals when you have an 
underperforming teacher or a situation that one of your staff members or more 
than one of your staff members are involved in and your needing to address it 
because you feel that it's having an effect on the employees and the children and 
the overall morale of the building. 

Paula then relates a story that I never would have anticipated: 

We had this year two children who died in a car accident just a few months ago, 
couple months ago. One was a high schooler and one was a fourth grader in this 
school. Figuring out the right way, the best way to deal with that for everyone 
was a real, not so much - I guess part of it was ethical, but certainly a moral 
dilemma of how to play it out for everybody. 

"How to play it out for everybody" is an interesting choice of words to me. It suggests 

that Paula assumed responsibility for somehow controlling this trauma, or working 

purposefully to affect the way people would react to and process it. It turns out that is 

what she does mean: 


With this age group, figuring out how to respond initially to the children, how 
involved and deeply to go into it, how much public expression to have, how to 
communicate to the parents, how to mobilize the school in acknowledging the 
initial death and then the memory of the kids. And trying to figure out where 9 
and 1 year olds are emotionally and matching that up with how much time and 
attention to pay to it. 
With this list of considerations, Paula reveals her primary focus on the children in 

her school. However, she also felt responsibility for the parents in her school 


How to support the parents. I mean that was one piece that I hadn't really 
anticipated so much was the parents really looked to me. The parents in the 
classroom of the child looked to me for help and guidance about what to do. How 
to talk to their kids. What to do in memory of the child. 

Paula then turns to what I believe is at the heart of her story and the reason why it 

comprised, for her, an ethical dilemma: 

My first concern was to the family and respecting the family without knowing 
them, (emphasis mine.) Here's a dilemma for a principal in general with a school 
of 600 children. You don't know all of your kids and all of your parents and 
unfortunately I didn't know this child. When I saw pictures of him I knew who 
he was but I didn't know him by name and if I had dealings with him they were in 
the context of a group. He had never been in my office for anything. And that 
needing to respond appropriately without knowing him and knowing the family 


and making sure that we were respectful and attentive and appropriate in our 

Not knowing this child personally made the situation difficult emotionally for 
Paula. Having spent much of her career as a special education teacher, getting to know 
her students on a highly personal level, Paula was at a loss as to how to appropriately deal 
with the emotions of this tragedy. She injects this personal difficulty several times into 
her story: 

So you know the first thing was how to tell the kids and how to tell the faculty. 
We told the faculty first, obviously. I was called on the weekend. And you know 
what, this is partly not knowing him, the police were so upset and so moved at the 
time that they called me, they were at the scene of the accident. And I didn't have 
the same emotional reaction because I didn't know the child. 
Paula labels her feelings at the time: 

And I wasn't there. And I felt guilty almost, that I didn't have ... the first thing 
that happened to me is that my defenses went up so that I could handle the 
situation and help everybody else. Which is often what I have to do. Things 
don't get to me emofionally in this job so that I can function. ... So, intellectually 
figure out what needs to happen even around emotion, which is interesting 
because it's not the way I function in my personal life at all. 
Paula found herself in the middle of this community's tragedy: 

So telling the teachers, telling the kids, telling the parents, the letters, the 
communication, and then very quickly moving on to who's going to the funeral, 
who's going to the wake. Parents were looking for my guidance on should their 


children go to the wake? Should they go to the funeral? I had lots of 
unanticipated interactions with the minister of the family's church, with the 
minister of the hosting church, with the police department. . . . The classroom 
teacher, who was 23 years old at the time, just out of her Master's program, she 
was totally distraught and she needed a lot of support. ... So that was an 
experience no new teacher expects to have. 

She returns to her feelings of guilt for not having known the child: 

So, and you - after the initial - and that's when I met the parents was at the wake. 
These parents were just so unbelievable - so brave. And I felt badly and I still 
feel badly that I didn't know them before because I love them now and I just felt 
kind of- they came in to see me yesterday just to pick up some more things that 
he had left behind and to look at the bench and the tree that we planted and we 
started talking about ways - all they want to do is give back. 

Paula wraps up her account of this ordeal: 

So that's been a huge experience for me and sort of - to know the right way to - 
not the right way but the best way, the most natural and appropriate way to 
express your emotions to them and to honor his memory. We dedicated a page in 
our memory book and we had a book collection for him at a school meeting 
where each classroom donated a book in his memory and we had a little ceremony 
and the parents came. So we have a little shelf in memory of him. 
Still looking to understand her difficulty in decision making, I probed Paula for 

details regarding what she chose to do about canceling programs, letting staff go to the 


funeral, etc. She answers my questions, including one where I ask her to tell me about a 

decision she was glad she made. 

I'm glad that I listened to everybody that contacted me. ... I listened to their 
advice ... It wasn't a time for me to be making authoritative decisions as much as 
just [just!] leading and organizing and giving people permission to do what they 
needed to do... 

Still, I hadn't understood where the ethical difficulty lay until Paula patiently explained it 

to me again: 

No regret in decisions that we made about it. None. What my regret was, and it's 
a continuing regret as I mentioned already, is not having known him and wanting 
to make a bigger effort to get to know all of the kids in the school earlier on. 

She adds: 

It's given me a new perspective on what's important although I always knew that 
it was important to know as many kids as you can but everything gets in the way 
of it as you know. Especially when you have 600 kids. 
Paula is disappointed in her performance in this aspect of the role, and especially 

when she thinks back to the child who died: 

But I think other principals do a better job of it than I do. I have this sort of 
friendly veneer with all the kids and they all know me and I'm out there a lot but 
I'm really bad at names and so I just feel badly that I hadn't been in his classroom 

And now we get to the essence of Paula's dilemma and one important cause of her guilt: 


At moments I felt that I was being false because I didn't know him and I was 
planning and saying things about him based on what other people told me when I 
had to get up and - because everyone wanted me to be the one to say things. And 
I did. But I didn't know him, so I didn't want to appear like I did but I wanted to 
represent what other people had to say about him. 

Paula was torn between her need to be authentic and honest and her need to 
express all that was good about this child, whom she did not know. Early in our 
conversation she had told me about her age, her weight gain, her divorces - this is a 
woman given to easy disclosure. During this difficult time she had to grapple with the 
fact that she didn't know this child in her school and yet present to the community as if 
she did. To "come clean" and announce to the community - especially the child's 
parents - that she didn't know him would have been inappropriate and not at all helpful 
to the people who were looking to her to honor this child's life and memory. Other 
principals who were not so prone to candor might not have considered this a dilemma. It 
certainly is difficult to get to know 600 children personally, especially given the demands 
of the principal's job. Other principals may have more easily forgiven themselves for 
this lack of connection to this one particular child and then moved on - with feelings of 
sadness, no doubt, but not the level of guih experienced by Paula. 



For these principals, conflicts of duties - whether professional or personal - 
emerged as ethical dilemmas. Consistent with Harding's (1985) theory of how ethical 
dilemmas emerge in consciousness, there was a motivation to achieve something and an 
obstacle within the situation. That obstacle was often the principal's sensitivity to his or 
her own personal moral code. A paradox was formed when two or more personal or 
professional values came into conflict. 

Turmoil stemmed from what these principals experienced as a conflict of duties. 
All professions contain a set of duties to be implemented throughout the day, year, and 
lifetime of the career. The job of the principal is no different in this regard, although the 
list of duties to be performed, and roles to be enacted, is long and wide. The Principles of 
Effective Administration contain within them a set of duties - of things to be done - in 
order to meet the expectations of the school and professional community. What these 
principals considered their "duty" reflected their professional and personal ethical codes. 
School principals feel a sense of duty to themselves as people, too, to be consistent with 
what they value in their own virtuous qualities. 

Consistent with the conclusions of prior studies (Grogan and Smith, 1998; Kirby, 
Paradise and Protti, 1989), I, too, found that the most vexing ethical dilemmas reported 
by these principals involved imposing sanctions for staff (primarily) and students 
(secondarily). In three cases - those of Phyllis, Linda, and Alice - the issue was 
dismissal for underperformance. In two cases - those of John and Debra - the issue was 
communicating dissatisfaction with teacher performance, either verbally (John) or 


through the formal evaluation process (the case with Debra). In Judy's case, taking no 
action would have likely resulted in punitive sanctions for her custodian. In two cases - 
Sam's and Susan's - the issue was student discipline, specifically the determination of 
appropriate consequences for misbehavior. Two cases - Denise's and Paula's - were 
unique in that they didn't fall into this category, but were certainly illustrative of how 
inner conflict arises when one is duty-bound to present a stance that runs counter to one's 
authentic self For the purposes of analysis, I present these dilemmas as occurring within 
one or more of the following paradoxes: Justice versus mercy, '"* conflict within the ethic 
of the profession (as described by Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001), and personal code versus 
professional code. 

The "Justice Vs.Mercy" Paradox: "Being the Bad Guy" 
The ethic of justice has its foundation in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the 
preeminent deontologist. Deontology, an ethical belief system which privileges the 
"right" over the "good" (Rawls, 1999, p. 28), emphasizes rules and processes over 

The ethic of justice honors impartiality and objectivism (Rawls, 1999). School 
principals contemplating a teacher dismissal, in order to be "just," must act impartially 
and objectively. This ethical responsibility is contractually encoded in the terms of "due 
process." Due process is a set of steps principals must follow to ensure equitable and 
ethical treatment while judging teacher performance, especially if the judgments are 
negative. As these principals have learned, however, dismissing a teacher is not as 

''' The paradigm was coined by Kidder (1995). It might also be conceived of as the ethic of justice versus 
the ethic of care. 


simple as following a series of steps. The process is fraught with knotty ethical issues - 
particularly when one is more apt to ground decisions from an ethic of care, as is the case 
with many female principals (Beck, 1994, Noddings, 1992). 

The principal's critical role as instructional leader has been emphasized in the 
literature primarily since the advent of late twentieth century education reform (Beck & 
Murphy, 1993, Leithwood, Jantzi, & Steinbach, 1999, Hallinger & Murphy, 1985). A 
key responsibility of this role is to ensure effective and caring teacher performance. 
Typically, this occurs through careful hiring practices, coaching, mentoring, and the 
provision of professional development programs. When a principal discovers that a 
teacher is not performing effectively or with care, it is his or her duty to remedy that 
situation. Teachers' unions are quite concerned, naturally, about the way a principal may 
go about remedying this situation, and so teacher evaluation processes are negotiated 
carefully and in detail. While details may differ from district to district, central to a 
teacher's rights is the principle of due process. This aspect of "justice" demands that 
steps are taken to ensure that a decision affecting a teacher is not made capriciously or 
hastily. In his book The Marginal Teacher: A Step-by-Step Guide to Fair Procedures for 
Identification and Dismissal, Lawrence (2005) lists over 50 pieces of documentation a 
principal should compile in order to safeguard due process rights while working toward 
dismissal. Going through the process of documenting - and discussing openly - every 
mistake, every complaint, and every disappointing observation is painful and not at all 
consistent with the actions of a supportive, caring person. The work of Gilligan (1982) 
and Noddings (1992) supports the conclusion that female administrators tend to operate 
from an ethic of care - that is, a stance which asserts concern and responsibility for 


others. In these three cases of teacher dismissal, however, it was concern and 
responsibihty for the children in their school that motivated the principals to follow 
through with dismissal procedures. 

Due process is about respecting an individual's right to equal treatment - giving 
people what they deserve and distributing benefits and burdens on the basis of fair 
cnYma (Nash, 2002, p. 138). 

Generally, issues of due process concern the nature of fair procedures for making 
decisions. The question is: What counts as fairness in making decisions about 
matters that affect others' lives? Questions of due process are not usually directly 
concerned with the fairness of the decision itself, but with the fairness of the 
process used to reach it. (Strike, Haller & Soltis, 1998, p. 76) 
When Phyllis asked herself, "Is that enough to warrant dismissal?" her question 
reflected Aristotle's discussion of justice and the right to equal treatment. If she was 
going to take away this teacher's position in the school - with the monetary, professional, 
and personal consequences a dismissal entails - she wanted the scales to balance out. 
The teacher must have shown such recalcitrance that it made it equal - the dismissal was 
warranted. The only way to ensure she was giving fair treatment was to use fair criteria 
for what had been taken away from the school community because of performance and 
for what she was contemplating taking away from the individual. There had to be fair 
criteria, and the punishment (which was significant) must have been warranted 

That which is just, then, in this sense is that which is proportionate; but that 
which is unjust is that which is disproportionate. In the latter case one quantity 


becomes more or too much, the other less or too Httle. And this we see in 

practice; for he who wrongs another gets too much, and he who is wronged gets 

too Httle of the good in question:... (Aristotle, p. 104) 

Strike, Haller and Soltis (1998) refer to this principle as "the principle of equal 
treatment." That is, "In any given circumstances, people who are the same in those 
respects relevant to how they are treated in those circumstances should receive the same 
treatment (p. 54). Driven by this principle, Phyllis was afraid to act without assurance 
that she was, in fact, using evaluation criteria and a process for dismissal that treated 
people equally. She wanted to let the teacher go for reasons that any principal would, but 
she had to be non-judgmental, which for her meant bracketing against unfair and 
irrelevant criteria (such as personal values) in the decision-making equation. Phyllis' 
personal ethic told her she should be non-judgmental and caring. Her professional code 
told her she must use judgment to let a teacher go. 

For Strike, Haller and Soltis (1998) the foremost consideration is that "equal 
regard be given to all sides in a case and that all appropriate evidence be brought to bear" 
(p. 76). Although Phyllis did not use the term in her testimony, she was disturbed by 
thoughts regarding how she handled the process of dismissal, not the dismissal itself 
She questioned her own ability to identify appropriate evidence (lying on an attendance 
sheet) vs. that which was inappropriate (her own personal feelings toward the teacher.) 

Strike, Haller and Soltis (1998) discuss the idea of notice within due process: "If 
people are to be judged according to the quality of their performances, it is reasonable to 
claim that they have a right to know the standards according to which they are to be 
judged." (p. 76) 


Did Phyllis offer enough notice that the teacher was in trouble? Had she given 
her notice regarding performance expectations? She told me that she met with her "a 
couple of times" after school and that in the end the teacher was not surprised, although 
she was disappointed. However, Phyllis was disturbed by what she believed was a lack 
of clarity provided to the teacher regarding performance expectations and, most certainly, 
a clearly defined process for dismissal. The Reading Specialist role in elementary 
schools has undergone a transformation recently from one of primarily direct service 
provider to children (using a "pullouf model) to one of instructional leader and coach for 
teachers, (cite reference regarding reading specialist role) Is it possible the reading 
teacher began the role thinking she would be serving children primarily and Phyllis 
thought she would lead the teachers in their own practice? Phyllis' testimony suggests 
this may have been the case. 

The aspect of due process involving notice is also relevant to both Debra's and 
Alice's stories. Teachers they had seen as underperforming had been given reason to 
believe by other administrators that their job performance was fine. This made Alice 
"furious" and Debra quesUon her own judgment. In both cases, these principals had to be 
the first to put the teachers on "nofice" that their performance needed to improve. 

Strike, Haller and Sohis (1998) list another component of due process as the 
"requirement that standards must be consistently applied" (p. 77). Phyllis was frustrated 
by the lack of an objective standard for teacher performance that would have, she 
believed, helped her to apply her judgment consistently. This former mathematics and 
technology major was not comfortable relying on her memory and intuifion. 


The third component of due process described by Strike, Haller and Soltis (1998) 
is that the decision is made "on the basis of reasonable evidence" (p. 77). By the end of 
the year, Phyllis believed she had adequate evidence that keeping the teacher was not in 
the best interests of the school, evidence that her mentor helped her to sort out and weigh. 
However, gathering this evidence went against Phyllis' personal code of wanting to be 
the kind of principal who gives everybody "a shot." 

Linda's decision-making surrounding teacher dismissal was a little different from 
Phyllis'. After a three year process, this teacher had surely been given enough notice and 
many attempts to help her improve. However, Linda believed the teacher she set out to 
dismiss was a nice person, "a good human being", who was down on her luck and had 
serious problems at home. Spending two or three years documenting this woman's 
underperformance went against her own notion of herself as the kind of person who 
looked for the "best in people." She had great difficulty reconciling her self-identity as a 
supportive person while actively looking for this teacher to make mistakes. Yet, in order 
to be "just" she needed strong evidence in favor of a dismissal. Strike, Haller and SoUis 
(1998) might locate this dilemma within the paradox of two different principles. That is, 
the principle of benefit maximization, a consequentialist principle concerned with an 
outcome beneficial to most parties, versus the principle of respect for persons, a 
nonconsequentialist stance concerned only with the treatment of the individual (pp. 79- 
80). In Linda's case, the two principles do not conflict absolutely: Linda was able to 
treat the individual with respect by adhering to the principle of due process, but in the end 
she needed to take away a woman's job in order to make her school a better learning 


Susan's story about student discipline is somewhat unique in that she encountered 
a "justice versus mercy" dilemma and, in the end, opted for mercy, lessening 
consequences for boys who had played a mean practical joke on a classmate. "Furious" 
and ready to hand down a tough punishment, she listened to both sides and changed her 
mind after receiving a fuller picture of the incident. Knowing that her decision would be 
unpopular with her staff, (teachers were clamoring for a suspension), she nevertheless 
prioritized strengthening the relationship between the boys over promoting herself as 
being a "tough" principal. Susan's decision making was reflective of Nodding's 
assertion that when operating from an ethic of care, a person is careful to understand the 
perspective of others (1984, p. 24). For Susan, the best outcome was the strengthening the 
friendship between the boys, although it was costly to her as a new principal. Susan also 
articulated her belief in situational decision-making, going so far as to say that it was 
"dangerous" for someone to think they were sure of their own decisions, and that even 
with written guidelines she remains going "back and forth." Susan's stance was 
reflective of a situationalist, morally relative ethical position. The moral authority in this 
case was her own conscience. Frankena (1973, pp 24-25) would say that Susan acted 
from a position of act-deontologism, which he defines as "the claim that each situation is 
different and even unique, so that no general rules can possibly be of much help in 
dealing with it, except as mere rules of thumb." Joseph Fletcher (1966) used the term 
"situation ethics" to describe an act-deontology that held the primacy of love as the final 
arbiter of ethical decision-making, and the "rightness" of any decision as being wholly 
dependent on the circumstances, or situation, involved. Fletcher would have agreed with 
Susan's decision. 


Sam's story involving student discipline also placed the dilemma within the 
"justice versus mercy" paradigm, but he opted for what he believed was "just" and 
"consistent" with his other decisions over giving special consideration for a girl he 
believed was less guilty than the other students. His stance was utilitarian, in that he did 
what he thought would be in the best interest of the largest number of affected people, 
namely, his school community. Sam believed the community needed to see swift and 
equal punishment in order to feel safe in his school. In the utilitarian view, moral 
authority is neither derived from motive nor adherence to principle. Moral authority is 
derived from a calculated course of action which maximizes intrinsic value for the 
greatest number (Bentham, 1789). Consistent with the principle of moral objectivism, 
John Stuart Mill stressed the importance of impartiality in this calculation or decision- 

Utilitarianism is not the agent's own happiness, but that of all concerned. As 
between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as 
strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. (Mill, cited in 
Kidder, 1995, p. 156) 
Sam considered it his duty to be impartial and disinterested where the students were 
concerned, even though he did care about them. His belief in moral objectivism is seen 
in his testimony: 

I know I did the right thing. How do I describe it? I sent those kids away. That's 
not what I wanted to do, that's not. You can't have personal - personal feelings 
can't get involved in a decision like that with four kids. It's just - how can you? 


Judy's story, falling within the "justice versus mercy" paradigm as well, left her 
with the option of inaction. She would do her duty to investigate an accusation of 
misconduct by her custodian, who had behaved badly toward her and whom she would 
have liked to see dismissed, but she did carry some influence over whether or not he 
would stand trial in a civil suit. She opted for exerting influence over the parent and 
saved the custodian from a trial. This was a merciful act, but it is interesting to note that 
she didn't make her choice to help the custodian, but rather to protect her school from the 
negative publicity such a trial would engender. 

The Ethic of the Profession 
"A moral belief collid[ing] with institutional reality." (Lashway, 1996, p. 
"What would the profession expect?" (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001) 

Alice's case provides an example of conflicting duties within the ethic of the 
profession. Unlike the other principals working toward dismissal, she did not have the 
support or agreement of her administrative team. Neither the teacher's primary 
supervisor, the Special Education Director, nor the K - 5 Curriculum Director, Alice's 
superior, supported the dismissal. A school principal must maintain high standards of 
teaching, but she also has a professional duty to be loyal to the district administrative 
team. This made it difficult for Alice to proceed and is what makes her "furious" to this 
day. When a new special education administrator came to the district and did support her 
in the dismissal, she was able to accomplish what she had set out to do on her own. 


Unlike the other principals who faced the "justice versus mercy" dilemma, Alice was 
clear in her own mind about what needed to be done, but she found it "infuriating" that 
she didn't have the support of her administrative team. In his book "Real World" Ethics: 
Frameworks for Educators and Human Service Professionals, Robert Nash (2002) 
discusses how the "workplace shapes the practice of professionals through the values, 
skills, rewards, and folkways it transmits. . . ." (p. 89). Alice railed against a workplace 
where administrators were unconcerned about the underperformance of a special 
education teacher. 

John's dilemma didn't involve teacher dismissal, but he did agonize over having a 
"disciplinary meeting" with a teacher who was, in his estimation, "bad for kids." His 
conflict of duties also fell within the ethic of the profession. On one hand, avoiding a 
disciplinary meeting with this teacher would be tantamount to tacit approval of her 
harmful interactions with children. He had a duty to uphold a standard of caring student- 
teacher interactions. On the other, he knew that having the meeting would result in a 
fractious, divided and distracted faculty, as well as political backlash for him. One 
important duty of a school principal is to keep the comfort level and morale of the faculty 
up so that they can concentrate on their teaching, and he knew word would spread about 
his reprimand and would distract the faculty. He also faced the very real threat of 
political fallout. Members of the faculty who were loyal to the teacher may have 
impugned his reputation in the community. John had fallen victim to this phenomenon in 
his prior district. John did have the meeting with the teacher. It went as badly as 
predicted, with the teacher storming out and rallying her friends in the building. She did 
not improve in her interactions with students, and John's relationships with many of his 


teachers were compromised. In the end, however, he beUeved did his professional duty 
on behalf of his students. 

John's decision making was representative of a Kantian deontological belief 
system. The fact that John was disinclined to confront this teacher, knowing in advance 
that it would probably result in greater hardship for him, would, in Kant's view, make it a 
more "moral" act. With nothing to gain, but unable to keep silent, John upheld his 
standard of teacher-student interactions. This teacher might not have agreed, but John 
acted according to Kant's criterion of "good will," wherein the moral measure of an 
action is best taken in proportion to service to "duty": 

. . .an action from duty has its moral worth not in the purpose to be attained by it 
but in the maxim in accordance with which it is decided upon, and therefore does 
not depend upon the realization of the object of the action but merely upon the 
principle of volition in accordance with which the action is done without regard 
for any object of the faculty of desire... . (Kant 4:400, p. 13) 
In Kant's view, an action is not moral if it is taken out of personal inclination, or 
with consideration for outcome. In fact, the more one is disinclined to an action, the 
more "moral" the action Kant deemed it to be. 

Debra's dilemma was similar to John's, but her decision-making was quite 
different. A new principal, she grappled with teacher evaluations for two teachers who 
were underperforming. If she was going to be truthful in her evaluations, which meant 
assigning "not performing to expectations" and putting two teachers on "improvement 
plans" she ran the risk of being perceived as a "trouble-maker", one who "stirred things 
up", by her own staff as well as the other principals in the district. She used the words 


"chicken out" frequently to describe her failure to be truthful on the evaluations. This is 
consistent with the feeling a person who is primarily deontological in thinking gets when 
she feels she has betrayed her own moral code. After talking with other principals, her 
superintendent, and reading the evaluations written by her predecessor, Debra believed it 
was the administrative norm in the district at that time to write mild evaluations for 
underperforming teachers. Her decision to withhold criticism was borne of a more 
utilitarian, pragmatic need to learn more about the workplace norms and develop her ovra 
competence in evaluating teaching so that when the time came she could put the teachers 
on improvement plans from a position of strength: "And that's when I felt, I guess I had 
the support as well as additional training that yes, I was doing the right thing. This was 
the right thing to do." 

Personal Versus Professional Code: Subverting the Self 
The professional paradigm is based on the integration of personal and 
professional codes. However, frequently an individual's personal and 
professional codes collide. This makes h difficult for an educational leader to 
make appropriate decisions. (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2001, pp. 55-56) 

Denise and Paula's stories bear little resemblance to one another except in one 
important way: They both illustrate the dilemma principals face when their role requires 
them to be less than honest with their school community about their beliefs. Paula was 
disturbed by feelings of guih and fraudulence when she was required to speak publicly 
about a child in her school who had died as if she knew him well, when she didn't. 


Denise was required to publicly support her superintendent's choice of staff cuts, even 
though she thought they were terrible mistakes. Both of these women were forced to 
subvert their authentic selves in favor of doing what was expected according to school 
community standards and role expectations. 

The attribute of authenticity has recently come into use in the educational 
leadership literature (Sergiovanni, 1992, Evans, 1996, Fullan, 2003, Starratt, 2004). In 
his book, Ethical Leadership, Starratt (2004) eloquently describes this important virtue: 
There is a tacit moral imperative to be true to oneself. To not be true to oneself 
would be to miss the whole point of one's life. Since I am a unique being who 
will exist only once in the whole history of the universe, my originality is 
something that only I can discover, author, perform, define, and actualize. Only I 
can realize a potentiality that is solely my own. If I refuse this most basic human 
privilege and opportunity, then I violate my destiny and myself (p. 66). 
Denise 's and Paula's story illustrates what happens to people when their 
profession's role expectations cause them to betray their own belief system. Denise's 
story is perhaps the more pronounced in this regard, ending with her actually leaving the 
school. Denise had thrived in her career. She found meaning and purpose in teaching, 
admired her first female superintendent for her work ethic and integrity, and enjoyed 
being the principal of a school where curriculum and instruction, teachers and children 
were well supported by central office. When her new superintendent cut critical staff 
from the budget, Denise was angry and frustrated, but was forced to support the 
superintendent's decisions publicly - to her parent community, her teachers, and even to 
the people who were being let go. The need to keep m.edicine in her desk for an upset 


stomach revealed the amount of pain this situation caused her. C. Michael Thomson, 
(2002) author of The Congruent Life: Following the Inward Path to Fulfilling Work and 
Inspired Leadership refers to this as a "spiritual" pain, or "the pain of being separated 
from my authentic self, of having to live someone else's life in order to go along and get 
along that well trod sequential career path" (p. xiii). Finding no way to resolve the 
dilemma, Denise simply removed herself, taking the first new principalship she could 

Paula's pain came from her feelings of fraudulence when she helped her school 
community deal with the tragic death of a student. She confessed many times her 
feelings of guilt over having not known this particular student personally. To speak 
publicly about his life implied she knew him on a level deeper than was true. However, 
her school community, in particular the grieving parents, needed her to do just that. In 
their book Primal Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Boyatzis, 
and McKee (2002) contend that a key component of leadership with integrity is 
transparency. This attribute, which they say is tantamount to trustworthiness, is "an 
authentic opermess to others about one's feelings, beliefs, and actions. . ." (p. 47). In my 
short time with Paula, I had learned much about her personal life that she freely offered. 
She was forced during this time of dilemma to subvert her feelings of guilt over not 
knowing the child - over not knowing many of the 600 children in her school - to help 
the community process the loss. 


In the Public Eye 
The only thing we have in this job is our reputation. (John) 

One influence in their decision making that nearly all these principals reported 
was the impact their decisions would have on their school community, especially the 
staff. In some cases, they acted in the way they did because of the public pressure - in 
others, in spite of it. Whether their natural inclination was toward subjectivist situational 
decision making, as with Susan, or utilitarian, as with Sam, or objectivist, as with Phyllis, 
or deontological, as with John, these principals thought in advance about how their 
decisions would be interpreted by others in the building, and how that communal 
interpretation would affect their perceived leadership. Phyllis believed the outcome was 
positive in terms of her perceived leadership: "Any teacher that I have let go, I think it 
built more confidence in my staff because if I'm seeing it, they're seeing it. ... [It] Set up 
the standard right away that said I expect from everyone." Debra was negatively 
influenced by her fear that she would be perceived as the "new one" who would "stir up 
trouble," so much so that she was not truthful on a teacher evaluation. John had been 
forced to leave his last position, in part because his faculty turned against him, and now 
his conscience was telling him it could happen again: 

You know, so my dilemma was do I err on the side of children and confront the 
teacher, or do I err on the side of the political nature of things and not do anything 
at all, knowing that people are watching me in the building. Knowing that 
everybody's waiting to see my decision. . . It's just how buildings have ears . . . 


It was no longer between me and her, it was between her - it was two factions of 

the staff and everybody watching me to see what I was going to do about it. ... 

You know as well as I do that sometimes it isn't so much what happens - it's the 

word of mouth about what happens. The only thing we have in this job is our 


Judy proactively saved her disgruntled custodian from a civil suit in order to keep 

a situation out of the public eye. "I think it was because I saw the incident as a reflection 

of my school and my leadership and did not want this to become public." Sam was 

heavily influenced by his need to appear consistent to his school community: 

. . .as an administrator if you're not consistent in anything you do, you can't build 
that trust. And people will say "Oh, he'll back or do for one group but he won't 
do for another." . . . But I've got to save face for myself, with the kids. . . . Gossip 
spreads that kind of stuff. Oh lookit, lookit, she got away with it. 

Denise feared her integrity in leadership was questioned by her staff as she was forced to 

publicly support staffing cuts: 

I think there were times when I really felt they [the teachers] wondered where I 
stood on it or if I really - in my conversations they knew I stood for keeping the 
position. But I think they wondered if when I went to Administrative Council, 
was I supportive of it or - I think they questioned that. 
Paula felt intense pressure from her school community to present herself as a 

principal who knew a student well when she didn't. In her case, it was the public eye that 

created the dilemma. 


At moments I felt that I was being false because I didn't know him and I was 
planning and saying things about him based on what other people told me when I 
had to get up and - because everyone wanted me to be the one to say things. 
Of all the principals, Susan was least influenced by the impact her decision would 

have on the staff 

So of course I got pushed back from the teachers. "You didn't suspend him" and 
you know, I explained as much as I could the whole story and I was like it isn 't 
what it seemed - it isn 't what it seemed. . . . And I knew it wouldn't be popular 
with the teachers because already they're adjusting to my style which is very 
different from the other [former] principal. ... the obvious consequence that 
people outside looking in would look at is they needed to be suspended. And I 
just didn't see that. 
It is notable that Susan had been a principal for a mere three months when she 

spoke with me about this event. It would be interesting to see if she changes at all in her 

resiliency to public scrutiny after a few years in the role. 

In the Aftermath: Shaping Leadership 
Upon reflection, many of these principals were able to speak positively about 
their experiences, believing that their struggles resulted in refined leadership skills. 
Several principals (Phyllis, Debra, Alice) said they were more confident in their own 
judgment, better able to make good hiring decisions and better able to offer pointed 
feedback in the evaluation process. Susan and Debra said they learned to be patient as a 
result of their experience. "In the first month of school I learned that I need to move . . . 


slowly in terms of making a decision." (Susan) Debra, John, and Judy learned to ask for 
help from trusted colleagues. 

I took things too literally at that time about legal confidentiality and did not turn 

to anyone else for help. If that happened today, I would call friends who were 

principals and get advice. (Judy) 

Support from Above: The Critical Role of the Superintendent 

Finally, the experiences of these principals underscore the need for support from 
the superintendent and other central office personnel when difficult decisions must be 
made. Debra and Alice were not able to follow through with their respective duties until 
new central office persormel came in, providing training and back up. Phyllis openly 
credits her Assistant Superintendent with providing the necessary mentorship to help her 
sort out her own thoughts and self-doubts. Denise's school lost her as its principal 
because the Superintendent refused to consider her need for curriculum and guidance 
support staff Linda withstood the painful process of documenting underperformance for 
three years, a period of "frustration" and "depression" that surely she would not have 
been able to sustain without support from her Superintendent. To this day Linda believes 
so strongly in the need for Superintendent support for principals that she now instructs 
them with this "hidden agenda." Both John and Debra were reluctant to even approach 
their Superintendents with their dilemmas - Debra because she had been told to "handle 
it at the building level" and John because he believed the Superintendent had "other 
issues to worry about." 

Finally, and perhaps the most notable finding, was that all of these principals 
believed that they had "done the right thing" and that their decision-making had resulted 


in the best outcome for themselves and their school communities. Or did they? That 
these events were troublesome for the co-researchers is supported in the language of their 
testimony. But what truth claims can be made about how they really felt about their 
decision making in the aftermath? Should their testimony be taken at face value? What 
can be said about the fact that they all related satisfaction with the outcome, with the 
possible exception of Paula, who indicated ongoing feelings of guilt? It is perhaps 
impossible to know with any certainty whether these principals honestly believe they 
acted in the most ethical manner, or if they were simply unwilling to admit error or 
g doubts.'^ 

In their analysis of the metaphors used to describe school principals in the 1920s, 
Beck and Murphy found that the dominant metaphorical theme in the literature likened 
the principal to a "spiritual" leader of the community (1993, p. 14). Elwood Cubberly, 
one of the first authors of a textbook on school administration, referred to the principal as 
the "priest in the parish" (Cubberly, 1923, p. 26, cited in Beck & Murphy, 15). Nearly a 
century later, it seems this mantle is a difficult thing to shrug off. In many cases, these 
selected principals reported reluctance to share their struggles with anyone, certainly their 
superintendents, who should have been in a position to help them. They certainly did not 
share any doubts with me, regardless of my promises of confidentiality. Whether self- 
imposed or due to external perceptions of the role, the notion of the school principal as a 
"paragon of virtue" seems to be a phenomenon that stubbornly refuses to go away. 

'^ My few attempts to probe for decision-making that resulted in feelings of dissatisfaction were met with 
such resistance that I soon abandoned any hope of obtaining that level of disclosure. 


Significance of the Study 

One of the central goals of American education reform at the turn of the twenty- 
first century has been to equalize learning opportunities and outcomes for all groups of 
children, including and especially those groups previously marginalized. With federal 
education reform mandates of the early twenty-first century, the work of schools is 
evaluated on evidence of achievement - not simply evidence of good processes and 
intentions as it was in the past. The role of the school principal, in particular, has 
received increasing scrutiny for being instrumental in improving learning outcomes 
(Hallinger & Murphy, 1989). 

Throughout the twentieth century and at the beginning of the twenty-first, the 
theme of role conflict in the school principalship pervades every significant educational 
reform effort. At its source seems to be - on one hand - an ongoing public desire for 
school principals to attend to the needs of their community, as heard through the voices 
of superintendents and governing school boards, and - on the other hand - a more 
personal desire for principals to attend to their own professional organizations and 
university programs, who appeal to the principal's nobler motivations to effect social 
change through their school leadership. In a way, the organizations and universities have 
used the schools to change often oppressive systems, and the communities have used the 
schools to sustain often oppressive systems, and the school principal has traditionally 
been caught in the middle (deChiara, 2002). 

Now, however, with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, there is 
a new contender vying for the attentions of the school principal - the federal government 


- and this new contender is a formidable one. The message from the federal government 
to public school leaders is unambiguous - raise test scores or suffer sanctions. Four years 
into the implementation of NCLB, the work of the elementary school principal takes 
place in a context of soaring expectations, public scrutiny, competing values, diminishing 
resources, and unprecedented accountability demands for student achievement. 

Although the mandates of NCLB are clear, their means of accomplishment are 
not. Schools are complex places characterized by competing interests, and the problems 
of schooling are not easily solved. The school principal is responsible for making 
decisions and taking actions that will lead to improved student achievement, without 
compromising the individual and collective rights of the students, staff, and families that 
make up the school community. Because the stakes have never been higher, the time for 
strong, ethical leadership has never been greater. 


Appendix A 

March 14, 2006 

Dear Principal, 

1 am a doctoral candidate at Lesley University studying educational leadership. 
Specifically, I am researching selected elementary school principals' experiences with 
decision-making when faced with a "tough decision" or ethical dilemma. I presume that 
most school principals have some experience in this area! The purpose of this letter is to 
ask you to consider participating in this research as a subject of interview. 

The research model I am using is a qualitative one through which I am seeking 
comprehensive descriptions of principals' experience. Your participation would mean 
being interviewed by me for approximately one hour, with your experience audio-taped, 
transcribed, and analyzed along with the stories of 8 - 12 other school principals. 

Through your participation and that of others, I hope to understand how 
elementary school principals experience making a difficuh decision - one that perhaps 
draws on conflicting ethical principles or moral values. I am seeking vivid, accurate, and 
comprehensive portrayals of what this experience was like for you: your thoughts, 
feelings, and decisions, as well as the situation, event, and people cormected with your 
experience. Your identity, including that of your school and district, will be kept strictly 
confidential. You may discontinue participation at any time. 

As an elementary school principal myself (Dean S. Luce School, Canton, 
Massachusetts), I understand how difficult it is to take time out of a busy day to 
participate in a research project. However, the results of my study will, I hope, help 
current and aspiring principals to understand the nature of the job a little better, and, 
perhaps shed some light on the difficulties faced by school principals for people outside 
the role. 

1 will follow up this letter with a phone call after a few days have passed to see if 
you are interested in meeting with me or if you have any questions or concerns you 
would like to have addressed. I have mailed these letters out randomly, but have only 
included towns where I have no professional or personal connections. If you do agree to 
participate, please review the attached "Participant Release Agreement" which details 
conditions of participation. Thank you very much for your consideration of this request. 

Yours truly, 

Jennifer deChiara, Ed.M, CAS 


Appendix B 

Participant Release Agreement 

I agree to participate in a research study of "Decision-making of selected elementary 
school principals in an ethical dilemma." I understand the purpose and nature of this 
study and I am participating voluntarily. I give permission for the data to be used in the 
process of completing a Ph.D. degree, including a dissertation and any future publication. 
I understand that a brief synopsis of each participant, including myself, will be used and 
may include the following information: family status, number of years in current role, 
prior relevant work experience, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, unless I specifically 
ask that the information be omitted. I understand I may discontinue my participation at 
any time. I agree to meet at my school for an initial interview of one hour. If necessary, 
I will be available at a mutually agreed upon time and place for an additional one hour 
interview. I also grant permission to tape-recording of the interview. 

Research participant/date Researcher/date 



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